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Kingston Fossil Plant

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Kingston Fossil Plant is a coal-fired power station owned and operated by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and is located on Watts Bar Reservoir on the Tennessee River near Kingston, Tennessee.

The power station has nine coal-fired generating units and "net dependable generating capacity" of approximately 1,456 megawatts. TVA states that "the plant consumes some 12,350 tons of coal a day." Construction of the power station commenced in 1951 and was commissioned in 1955. According to the TVA the "plant consumes about 14,000 tons of coal a day."[1]




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December 2008 Sludge Spill at Kingston Plant

TVA ash spill in Harriman, TN on December 25, 2008. Photo courtesy of United Mountain Defense.

On December 22, 2008, a retention pond wall collapsed at TVA's Kingston plant in Harriman, TN, releasing a combination of water and fly ash that flooded 12 homes, spilled into nearby Watts Bar Lake, contaminated the Emory River, and caused a train wreck. Officials said 4 to 6 feet of material escaped from the pond to cover an estimated 400 acres of adjacent land. A train bringing coal to the plant became stuck when it was unable to stop before reaching the flooded tracks.[2] Hundreds of fish were floating dead downstream from the plant.[3] Water tests showed elevated levels of lead and thallium.[4]

Originally TVA estimated that 1.7 million cubic yards of waste had burst through the storage facility. Company officials said the pond had contained a total of about 2.6 million cubic yards of sludge. However, the company revised its estimates on December 26, when it released an aerial survey showing that 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash was released from the storage facility.[3] Several days later, the estimate was increased to over 1 billion gallons spilled.[5]

Originally TVA estimated that 1.7 million cubic yards of waste had burst through the storage facility. Company officials said the pond had contained a total of about 2.6 million cubic yards of sludge. However, the company revised its estimates on December 26, when it released an aerial survey showing that 5.4 million cubic yards (1.09 billion gallons) of fly ash was released from the storage facility.[3] Several days later, the estimate was increased to over 1 billion gallons spilled.[6]

The TVA spill was 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which released 10.9 billion gallons of crude oil.[7] Cleanup was expected to take weeks and cost tens of millions of dollars.[8]

On December 29, 2008, after an inquiry by the New York Times, the Tennessee Valley Authority released an inventory of the plant's 2.2 million pounds of toxic deposits during 2007. The inventory included 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems.[9]

The winter of 2010 brought heavy rains to the region, causing waste water runoff from the landfill be be greater than expected. As a result 25 inches of rain caused 100,000 gallons of polluted water to be dealt with, likely causing pollution to spread to other locales. The TVA nor the companies hired to take the ash or environmental regulators have discussed these issues with the public.[10]

Legal actions

On December 23, 2008 the environmental group Greenpeace asked for a criminal investigation into the incident, focusing on whether the TVA could have prevented the spill.[11][12]

On December 30, 2008 a group of landowners filed suit against the TVA for $165 million in Tennessee state court.[13] Also on December 30, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy announced its intention to sue the TVA under the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.[13]

On January 6, 2009, another lawsuit was announced by environmental groups. The pending lawsuit, brought by the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, and Public Justice, accuses TVA of failing to safeguard the public and the environment against the massive coal ash spill.[14]

Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club on November 12, 2009 appealed a permit issued to TVA that would allow the company to dump unlimited amounts of additional pollutants into Tennessee's Clinch River. The groups filed their appeal before the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board. The action was in response to TVA's Kingston spill last year.[15]

In December 2009, hundreds of people filed lawsuits against TVA before the one-year deadline, adding to several hundred others who had already filed suit over the Kingston spill. More than 20 separate cases were filed on Tuesday, December 22. TVA has said it should be immune from the lawsuits, because it was providing a government service.[16]

Alabama Proposes Coal Ash Regulation

On March 4, 2010 the Alabama House introduced a bill that would allow Perry County, Alabama to levy a $5 per ton fee on coal ash disposed at a privately owned landfill in the city of Uiontown. Alabama Rep. Ralph Howard of Greensboro, Alabama introduced the bill. Currently the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is shipping coal sludge that breached the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. TVA anticipates that it will ship approximately 3 million cubic feet of coal and ash to the landfill before the clean-up is completed.

Revenue from the levy would be spent evenly between the towns of Uniontown and Marion. The total amount raised could be as much as $15 million.

Democratic Rep. Ralph Howard of Greensboro introduced the bill Thursday.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is shipping coal ash and sludge that breached an earthen dike at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee to the landfill. TVA plans to ship about 3 million cubic feet of coal and ash to the landfill.

Howard said revenue from the fee would be split evenly between the cities of Uniontown and Marion. Howard estimated the fee could raise as much as $15 million. If the legislation passes voters would have to approve the measure in their November 2010 election.[17]

TVA shipping coal ash from Tennessee disaster to Georgia and Alabama

In a test case, some of the coal ash waste that spilled in TVA's Kingston plant disaster is being sent to Georgia and Alabama. TVA is loading it onto rail cars, where the company says it will be safely contained.[18]

In Georgia, the coal waste is being shipped to the Veolia landfill in Taylor Count, about 100 miles south of Atlanta. Local residents have dubbed the dump site "Trash Mountain." Sierra Club representative Mark Woodall said the landfill is poorly suited to coal ash storage, because it is "located in a groundwater recharge area, and it's a danger to our groundwater resources in Georgia."[18] In Alabama, a landfill in Perry County in the west central part of the state is also receiving ash shipments.[19]

The ash will be transported from Tennessee to the out-of-state landfills through May 15, 2009. State and federal officials will evaluate whether the tests are successful, and if so whether to bring in more of the TVA coal waste.[18] Just days after news of the test shipments were announced, EPA decided to take over cleanup of the spill. The agreement between EPA and TVA, which was executed under the Superfund law, has EPA overseeing the cleanup and TVA reimbursing EPA for its oversight costs.[20]

Landfill selections raise environmental justice concerns

Both the Georgia and Alabama landfills are located in areas with higher rates of poverty and higher percentages of African-American residents than state averages, a situation that has raised concerns about environmental justice. In Taylor County, more than 24 percent of the population lives in poverty, and over 40 percent of the population is African-American; by contrast, the state as a whole has a 14 percent poverty rate and is 30 percent African-American. Perry County in Alabama has more than 32 percent of its residents living in poverty and a 69 percent African-American population, compared with the state as a whole, which has a poverty rate of over 16 percent and a 26 percent African-American population.[19] Perry County District Attorney Michael Jackson criticized the EPA for allowing TVA to dispose of ash at a landfill in a poor community in Alabama, calling the decision "tragic and shortsighted." He vowed to monitor the disposal site to ensure the process complies with environmental regulations.[21]

Reports show that TVA also considered moving the coal ash to two communities in eastern Tennessee, both of which have populations of well over 90 percent white residents and poverty rates of under 21 percent. The two Tennessee sites considered were Athens in McMinn County and Oneida in Scott County. However, the company sought approval from state regulators solely for the sites in Georgia and Alabama. The communities that are receiving the coal waste from TVA were not provided an opportunity for public comment on the decision.[19]

Report identifies causes of spill

A report released in late June 2009 identified the main factors contributing to the massive Kingston coal ash spill. TVA hired engineering firm AECOM to analyze the underlying causes of the spill. According to the report, the underlying layer of the coal ash sludge was unstable and went undiscovered for decades by previous TVA stability analyses. The "creep failure" of this layer and liquefaction of the ash triggered the spill. The report also identified other factors including the construction of terraced retaining walls on top of the wet ash, which narrowed the area for storing the ash and in turn increased the pressure exerted by the rising stacks. Engineer Bill Walton said these factors created a "perfect storm" leading to the Kingston disaster. AECOM's report discounted heavy rains and seismic activity as contributing causes.[22][23]

Inspector General accuses TVA of deliberately influencing report

On July 28, 2009, TVA's Inspector General Richard Moore released a report concluding that the agency had improperly directed AECOM's investigation into the causes of the Kingston spill in order to protect itself from lawsuits. Moore criticized the decision to allow TVA's attorneys to hire the consultant and narrow the report in a way that "predetermined the choice that would be made between accountability and litigation strategy." As a result, the report overemphasized an underlying layer of slimy ash as the trigger for the collapse, an explanation Moore said was intended to reduce the legal culpability and liability of TVA management. According to Moore, "it appears TVA management made a conscious decision to present to the public only facts that supported an absence of liability for TVA for the Kingston spill." The report also revealed internal agency memos about warnings that could have prevented the spill, and suggested that other TVA sites may be at risk of similar collapses.[24]

TVA consultants criticize ash storage operations

Also in July 2009, consultants McKenna Long and Aldridge of Atlanta released a report commissioned by TVA following the massive Kingston spill. The report cited widespread problems with how the federal utility deals with its coal ash storage, saying that the controls, systems, and corporate culture required for proper management of the coal ash sties at its power plants were not in place. According to the consultants, TVA had no standard operating or maintenance procedures prior to the spill and neglected to provide annual training for its safety inspectors.[25]

TVA vows to revamp coal ash operations

TVA vowed to revamp its systems and culture in response to the two studies identifying weaknesses in its coal ash storage operations. The Authority's board called for a plan to correct the deficiencies at all TVA coal ash impoundments, including restructuring the utility's procedures, standards, controls, and accountability.[26] At a July 28 congressional hearing on the Kingston spill, CEO Tom Kilgore testified, "We have to change, and if that means heads have to roll and people have to leave, then so be it."[24]

No bonuses for TVA executives

At a meeting on November 19, 2009, TVA's top executives were told not to expect performance bonuses because of the massive Kingston spill and a drop in electricity sales related to the economic downturn. In addition, about 3,300 other managers and specialists will not receive pay raises in fiscal year 2010. President and CEO Tom D. Kilgore said, "It was a year overshadowed by Kingston and the economic downturn." Kilgore received over $1 million in bonuses for fiscal 2008, and nine executives who report to him received $1.2 million. TVA directors will extend Kilgore's $300,000 annual retention bonus for another four years, but without bonuses Kilgore's compensation, which includes a base salary of $875,000, is still about 45 percent below the average for top utility executives.[27]

TVA likely to raise rates to cover unexpected expenses

In April 2009, TVA Chairman Bill Sansom said the company is facing "upward pressure" on its rates, stemming from several challenges, including the Kingston coal ash spill. TVA has already spent $68 million on cleanup, and it estimates the final cost could surpass $800 million, not including fines and lawsuits. The Associated Press reported on April 11 that TVA had already spent over $20 million purchasing 71 properties tainted by the coal-ash spill and is negotiating to buy more.[28][29]

Although falling fuel prices have enabled TVA to cut much of a 20 percent rate increase that took effect in October 2008, the company is considering another increase in October 2009 to mitigate these expenses. TVA will set its fiscal 2010 budget and rate changes in August.[29]

After the accident, the TVA board voted to replace its six ash ponds -- including the one at Kingston, three others in Tennessee, and one each in Kentucky and Alabama -- with dry storage, at a cost of $1.5 billion over 10 years.[30]

Continuing coal waste problems after spill

TVA at the Crossroads, produced by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Kingston ranked 23rd on list of most polluting power plants in terms of coal waste

In January 2009, Sue Sturgis of the Institute of Southern Studies compiled a list of the 100 most polluting coal plants in the United States in terms of coal combustion waste (CCW) stored in surface impoundments like the one involved in the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill.[19] The data came from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for 2006, the most recent year available.[31]

Kingston Fossil Plant ranked number 23 on the list, with 1,738,437 pounds of coal combustion waste released to surface impoundments in 2006.[19]

Duke University scientists report high levels of arsenic

In November 2010 a study published by Duke University scientists in peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology, documented contaminant levels in aquatic ecosystems over an 18-month period following the TVA coal ash spill in 2008.

By analyzing more than 220 water samples collected over the 18-month period, the Duke team found that high concentrations of arsenic from the TVA coal ash remained in the water trapped within river-bottom sediment — long after contaminant levels in surface waters dropped back below safe thresholds.

Samples extracted from 10 centimeters to half a meter below the surface of sediment in downstream rivers contained arsenic levels of up to 2,000 parts per billion — well above the EPA’s thresholds of 10 parts per billion for safe drinking water, and 150 parts per billion for protection of aquatic life.

The authors argued that these findings were evidence that coal ash waste ought to be designated a hazardous substance by the EPA. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.[32]

December 2010: TVA leak at Kingston plant

In December 2010, two years after the huge coal ash spill, environmental officials ordered a synthetic liner be installed in a leaky gypsum storage pond at the same Kingston Fossil Plant in East Tennessee. TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said the utility on Dec. 15 stopped a seepage of water from the Kingston Plant gypsum pond near the Clinch River. The seepage was discovered about a mile from the site of the Dec. 22, 2008 spill.[33]

Gypsum is a byproduct of an air scrubbing process when coal is burned. It is used to make products such as drywall. A TVA statement said the pond built in 2006 covers an area of about 50 acres and has a capacity to hold about 5.7 million cubic yards of gypsum, but has been used only a short time and contains about 22,000 cubic yards of gypsum. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton said that in addition to TVA interrupting use of the storage pond until it is fixed, the utility must provide a "detailed corrective action plan." She said the department gave TVA 30 working days to provide the plan.[33]

Study finds dangerous level of hexavalent chromium at TVA Johnsonville and Kingston coal waste sites

The study "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash," released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011, reported elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, a highly potent cancer-causing chemical, at several coal ash sites in Tennessee.[34] In all, the study cited 29 sites in 17 states where hexavalent chromium contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash as well as from studies by EarthJustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Sierra Club.[35][36][37][38] It included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin.[34]

According to the report, hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) was found at elevated levels at the following sites:[34]

  • TVA's Johnsonville Fossil Plant unlined coal ash pond at 620 ppb (parts per billion) - 31,000 times the proposed California drinking water goals and 6.2 times above the federal drinking water standard.
  • TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant's unlined coal waste pond at 100 ppb (parts per billion) - 5,000 times the proposed California drinking water goals and above the federal drinking water standard.

A press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[39]

According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.[34]

Plant Data

  • Owner/Parent Company: Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Plant Nameplate Capacity: 1,700 MW
  • Units and In-Service Dates: 175 MW (1954), 175 MW (1954), 175 MW (1954), 175 MW (1954), 200 MW (1955), 200 MW (1955), 200 MW (1955), 200 MW (1955), 200 MW (1955)
  • Location: 714 Swan Pond Rd., Harriman, TN 37748
  • GPS Coordinates: 35.902145, -84.523905
  • Coal Consumption:
  • Coal Source:
  • Number of Employees:

Emissions Data

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 10,995,365 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 55,473 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions per MWh:
  • 2006 NOx Emissions: 13,953 tons
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions: 430 lb.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Kingston Fossil Plant

In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants.[40] Fine particle pollution consists of a complex mixture of soot, heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Among these particles, the most dangerous are those less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which are so tiny that they can evade the lung's natural defenses, enter the bloodstream, and be transported to vital organs. Impacts are especially severe among the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, and pneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal plant emissions. These deaths and illnesses are major examples of coal's external costs, i.e. uncompensated harms inflicted upon the public at large. Low-income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, due to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities. To monetize the health impact of fine particle pollution from each coal plant, Abt assigned a value of $7,300,000 to each 2010 mortality, based on a range of government and private studies. Valuations of illnesses ranged from $52 for an asthma episode to $440,000 for a case of chronic bronchitis.[41]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from the Kingston Fossil Plant

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 150 $1,100,000,000
Heart attacks 220 $24,000,000
Asthma attacks 2,400 $130,000
Hospital admissions 110 $2,600,000
Chronic bronchitis 90 $40,000,000
Asthma ER visits 140 $50,000

Source: "Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution," Clean Air Task Force interactive table, accessed February 2011

Water use from plant

A 2011 Union of Concerned Scientists report, "Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource," calculated the available water in every major watershed in the U.S. and measured that against the water used by power plants in each watershed. The report found that water use by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal plant is stressing the water supply of the Emory River, in Tennessee. The water stress problem is likely to get worse, according to the researchers, as the population, and the corresponding demand for energy and residential water, grows.[42]

Citizen groups

Articles and Resources

References

  1. Tennessee Valley Authority, "Kingston Fossil Plant", Tennessee Valley Authority website, accessed June 2008.
  2. Chloe White, "Dike bursts, floods 12 homes, spills into Watts Bar Lake," Knoxville News Sentinel, December 22, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Ash spill: TVA triples amount of sludge released," Knoxville News Sentinel, December 26, 2008.
  4. "Lead and thallium taint water near TVA pond breach," Knoxville News Sentinel, December 26, 2008.
  5. "Tennessee sludge spill estimate grows to 1 billion gallons," CNN, December 26, 2008.
  6. "Tennessee sludge spill estimate grows to 1 billion gallons," CNN, December 26, 2008.
  7. "Exxon Valdez oil spill," Encyclopedia of the Earth, access 12/08
  8. Rebecca Ferrar, "The cleanup: Weeks, millions needed to fix impact from TVA pond breach," Knoxville News Sentinel, December 27, 2008.
  9. Shaila Dewan, "At Plant in Coal Ash Spill, Toxic Deposits by the Ton," New York Times, 12/29/08
  10. "Spilled coal ash problem spreading" Observer-Reporter.com March 6, 2010
  11. Greenpeace calls for criminal investigation into coal ash spill, Greenpeace, December 23, 2008.
  12. Kristin M. Hall, "Utility doubles estimate of Tennessee ash deluge," Associated Press, December 26, 2008.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Landowners sue TVA for $165M over coal ash spill," Associated Press, December 30, 2008.
  14. Daniel Cusick, "New lawsuit announced over Tenn. ash spill," E&E News, January 6, 2009.
  15. Siobhan Hughes, "Environmentalists Challenge TVA Over Wastewater Permit ," Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2009.
  16. "Hundreds Beat Deadline for TVA Spill Lawsuits," Clean Skies, December 23, 2009.
  17. "Alabama proposal would levy fee on dumped coal ash" Associated Press, March 5, 2010
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Jim Burress, "Coal Ash from Tennessee Disaster Making its Way to Georgia Landfill," WABE, May 8, 2009.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 Sue Sturgis, "Dumping in Dixie: TVA sends toxic coal ash to poor black communities in Georgia and Alabama" Facing South, May 12, 2009. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "iss" defined multiple times with different content
  20. "EPA to Oversee Cleanup of TVA Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant Release," Environmental Protection Agency, May 11, 2009.
  21. "Alabama DA reviewing options on coal ash decision," WTVM, July 7, 2009.
  22. Scott Barker, "Report: Four factors led to fly ash spill," Knoxville News Sentinel, June 26, 2009.
  23. "Fly ash pond too high, filled too fast," WBIR, June 25, 2009.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Bill Theobald, "TVA led coal-ash report astray," The Tennessean, July 29, 2009.
  25. Duncan Mansfield, "TVA consultants criticize coal ash operations," Associated Press, July 21, 2009.
  26. "TVA vows revamp after coal ash spill," UPI, July 22, 2009.
  27. "Economy, ash spill mean no TVA executive bonuses," Associated Press, November 19, 2009.
  28. "Utility Rejects Many Requests as It Buys Land Tainted by Tennessee Coal-Ash Spill," Associated Press, April 11, 2009.
  29. 29.0 29.1 "TVA sees growing 'pressure' for higher rates," Associated Press, April 4, 2009.
  30. "Coal-Ash Disaster Lingers in Tennessee as Regulation Fight Rages" Bloomberg, November 3, 2011.
  31. TRI Explorer, EPA, accessed January 2009.
  32. "Duke scientists look deeper for coal ash hazards" Science Blog, November 29, 2010.
  33. 33.0 33.1 "TVA plant must replace liner at leaky gypsum pond" Bloomberg, Dec. 21, 2010.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash" Earthjustice & Sierra Club, February 1, 2011.
  35. "Damage Case Report for Coal Combustion Wastes," August 2008
  36. U.S. EPA Proposed Coal Ash Rule, 75 Fed. Reg. 35128
  37. EarthJustice, Environmental Integrity Project, and Sierra Club, "In Harm's Way: Lack of Federal Coal Ash Regulations Endangers Americans and their Environment," August 2010
  38. EarthJustice and Environmental Integrity Project, "Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites," May 2010
  39. "Coal ash waste tied to cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies" Alicia Bayer, Examiner.com, February 1, 2011.
  40. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  41. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010
  42. Averyt, K., J. Fisher, A. Huber-Lee, A. Lewis, J. Macknick, N. Madden, J. Rogers, and S. Tellinghuisen, "Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource," The Union of Concerned Scientists' Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative, November 2011 Report.

External Resources

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