Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TVA ash spill cleanup of Emory River is 70 percent done

The cleanup of coal ash from the Emory River in East Tennessee has been "remarkable" with more than 70 percent removed from the waterway since the spill at TVA's Kingston coal-fired plant, a state environment official told lawmakers Tuesday.
While officials say the river is the critical area where ash needs to be cleared to protect the environment, plenty more of the gray, potentially toxic muck remains on land or is held behind dams to be cleaned out in years to come.

More than 5.4 million cubic yards of damp ash that had gathered over decades broke through a dike Dec. 22, 2008, damaging houses, covering about 300 acres and filling parts of the Emory with dark muck.

One area of the river — no longer filled with chunks of gray ash — had grassy banks and was populated with waterfowl in a photograph shown at Legislative Plaza as part of an update delivered to a joint meeting of state House and Senate environment committees Tuesday.

RelatedCoal ash cleanup flow hits snag in AlabamaAerial photos of TVA coal ash disasterTVA ash spill year laterAn EPA update on the coal ash spill at TVA's Kingston plant

The remaining ash in the waterway should be dredged out by May, according to TVA.

TVA plans to remove the more than 2 million cubic yards that lie just west of the river in a second phase that could take three years. The total cost of the cleanup effort could reach $1.2 billion.

"There are no illusions as to the difficulty of completing the work," said Paul Sloan, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Lawmakers listened as officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and TVA said air and water monitoring shows no threat to humans.

"The air is safe to breath," said Leo Francendese, EPA's on-scene coordinator for the cleanup, adding that it easily met federal standards.

The area's drinking water is safe, too, he said.

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