“Clean” Coal Sludge

With all the recent talk, commercials, and news about clean coal, it’s timely to see an event emerge involving the horrible happenings in the small Tennessee town of Harriman (TV spot) (TN coal disaster) The story here is that Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Coal Plant, a coal-fired power plant that has been in the community since 1955, had a 40 acre holding pond break, and the heavy-metal enriched sludge that it contained spread throughout the underlying community.

To be exact it was 1 billion gallons, yes billions, of coal ash sludge which flowed so vigorously that three houses in its pathway now have been condemned and 42 other homes have been damaged. This sludge flow was so enormous that it now covers more than 300 acres and has risen up to heights of 65 feet in places!

What makes this instance even worse is that Kingston Coal Plant already had two other breaches in their containing ponds as recently as 2003 and 2006. Despite not being regulated by the EPA as hazardous waste, coal ash sludge contains toxic, cancer-causing agents like arsenic, lead, and mercury.

With many calling this the worst environmental disaster in American history (the spill here is 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill), I think that this event has largely been overlooked by the media. I’ve seen a few pieces on it, but most of them by the usual suspects. I’m quite positive that the people in Tennessee who have had to live through this nightmare would like the world to know about what has happened to them.

With 450 other power plants in place, plans are underway build many more under the guise of using clean coal technology. While I cannot argue the fact that most of our electricity now comes from coal-fired power plants, I will also argue that there are now far cleaner ways of producing energy (solar, hydro, wind, geothermal). This is just another example of why we need to move away from dirty, finite energy sources like coal, petroleum, and nuclear. Coal plants, when producing cancer-causing byproducts, will never be clean enough, especially when terrible instances like the one in Harriman continue to occur as a result of negligent coal companies.

It’s hard to imagine what 1 billion gallons of coal slurry looks like (to me it looks like a huge lava flow), but here’s an overhead video of the damage for you to see:


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