The coal ash spill last month that dumped more than a billion gallons of toxic material onto 300 acres of rural east Tennessee may threaten wildlife for years to come, according to National Geographic. The ash contains dangerous toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury and thallium that can lead to health problems in humans such as cancer, liver damage and neurological complications. Wildlife can suffer serious consequences as well.
The first blow to animals in the area came when the spill occurred. Animals that were caught in the spill’s wake died from strangulation or from being buried in the sludge and ash. Stephen Smith, veterinarian and director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, says the animals that remain are not safe. Fish who swam to fresher water to escape the spill have ash coating their stomachs and gills. The damage isn’t just occurring in aquatic specials like fish, mussels and snails. River otters, mink, muskrat, ospreys and block-crowned night herons may also be at risk.
As wildlife in the area continue to live off the contaminated land, toxins can build up in their blood stream over the coming months and years. If the animals are contaminated, those dangerous toxins may eventually work their way to humans through the food chain.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor and assess how the spill is affecting animals there over the next three to five years. As a precaution, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has issued an advisory against eating striped bass caught in rivers around the spill zone, and precautionary advisory for catfish and sauger.