Uniontown residents concerned about shipments of coal ash

Coal ash recovered from an east Tennessee community where the toxic material spilled after an impoundment pond breached at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal-firing plant in Kingston, Tenn., is already being shipped to landfills in other states, creating jobs and bringing money to impoverished counties, but residents of an Alabama community receiving the shipments aren’t pleased.

“Money ain’t worth everything,” says Mary Gibson Holley, a retired teacher in Uniontown, in an interview with the New York Times.“In the long run, they ain’t looking about what this could do to the community if something goes wrong.”

When the coal ash spill occurred in east Tennessee last December, it knocked houses from their foundations, destroyed land, and contaminated nearby waterways. People living near the spill have reported heightened anxiety and respiratory problems. Even a young child was tested positive for heavy metals in his blood. Coal ash contains dangerous toxins such as arsenic, lead, barium, chromium and manganese which have been linked to serious health conditions such as cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, to name a few.

It is estimated that the TVA will spend close to $1 billion before its cleanup effort in east Tennessee is complete. That cleanup includes relocating the recovered coal ash to landfills in other states, including the Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown, Ala.

Arrowhead is getting about 8,500 tons of recovered coal ash. The deal, arranged by the TVA and state and county officials, has brought 30 new jobs to the area and will bring in more than $3 million in “host fees.” The benefits sound like a great deal for the very poor and mostly black county. And even some environmentalists say storage at the Arrowhead site is ideal, with dry storage dug into a nearly impermeable bed about 600 feet above the water table.

But lack of trust runs high in Perry County, where residents fear environmental hazards, such as tornadoes and flooding, not to mention equipment failures, might cause another spill like that in east Tennessee.

“We’ve been taken advantage of by several groups of powers that be,” said Robert Bamberg, a catfish farmer and organizer of Concerned Citizens of Perry County, a group of landfill opponents. “There’s a sense among the population that we’ve been thrown under the bus.”