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National Security in (Coal) Ashes

June 12th, 2009 · 4 Comments

This week, the Department of Homeland Security prohibited a US Senator from disclosing the location of coal ash dump sites in the country.

TVA,coal,coal ash disaster,fly coal disaster,Tennessee coal ash disaster

What is the biggest toxic spill the US has ever experienced?

Exxon-Valdez?

No, this one is 100 times worse than Exxon-Valdez and will cost a billion dollars to clean up.

On December 22, 2008, a coal ash containment pond in the Kingston Fossil Plant (operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority) in Roane County, Tennessee ruptured,  flooding 300 acres of the surrounding area in 1 billion gallons of fly ash sludge. Fly ash is what you get after burning coal and this mixture contains toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium, which can cause cancer and neurological problems.

Watch aerial video survey of the area the day after the disaster.

This is the biggest man-made ecological disaster in US history, laying waste to what has been a peaceful and scenic part of Tennessee. The Exxon-Valdez oil spill disaster in 1989, which cost the oil company nearly 5 billion dollars in clean-up and reparation payments, spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil.

I wrote about “clean coal,” a snake oil product, that the coal industry is trying to sell to the American public, back on Earth Day. And then other things came up after that, and it was not until this week that I thought again about coal and the dangers of burning it as fuel for power generation.

The first thing that reminded me of it was another advertisement on Monday, by the coal industry, showing off a carbon capture plant and again trying to push for the acceptance of “clean coal.” Yesterday, Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post reported that the Department of Homeland Security told US Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) that she and the members of her committee are prohibited from disclosing the locations of fly ash dump sites in the country.

Apparently, Homeland Security recognized just how toxic this by-product of coal-burning is and how it would pose a grave threat to our national security if a “disrupting event” such as a storm or a terrorist attack, would cause any one of these deposits to spill into the surrounding areas. The national debate over coal ash regulation heated up again, after the disaster in Tennessee.

Watch: Victims of the TVA coal ash disaster speak out in DC.

At present, there are no federal regulations specifically providing oversight to these “disaster-waiting-to-happen” locations. Supervision and monitoring are the responsibility of the states in which these coal dumps are located. Amazing. We closely regulate nuclear and Super Fund sites, at the federal level, but not coal ash sites, which are just as potentially dangerous to the surrounding communities.

The silver lining in this whole nasty episode is that coal ash has finally driven home the point that there is no such thing as “clean coal,” contrary to the claims of the powerful coal lobby. While they continue pursuing the dead-end search for “clean coal” through carbon capture technology, their arguments are shattered by…coal ash, sweet irony. Even if they manage to capture one hundred percent of the greenhouse gases from coal-fired plant emissions, which obviously wont happen soon enough, they still have to deal with the massive deposits of coal ash accumulated for decades, across the country. And we haven’t even started discussing coal soot in this article.

Coal is clean…if you don’t burn it.

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Tags: Environment

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kate // Jul 6, 2009 at 4:33 am

    What a great post!

    I have been looking for a comprehensive account of coal and the enviroment – excellent explanation

  • 2 peter charles // Jul 30, 2009 at 2:42 am

    wow this is an eye opener, so much mess happening around the world

  • 3 Pawel // Aug 3, 2009 at 3:30 am

    What a terrible desaster. This was only a short note here in German media.

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