Tenn. coal ash spill among worst man-made environmental disasters

Last year, when a coal ash impoundment pond at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fossil fuel plant in east Tennessee breached, sending a wave of toxic material on to a neighboring rural community, the event made headlines worldwide as one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history. It also landed in the No. 1 spot on EarthFirst.com’s “America’s Top 10 Worst Man-Made Environmental Disasters”.

“Humans have turned screwing up the earth into an art form, skillfully wreaking havoc on the land, water and air through negligence, lack of concern or even the greedy desire to profit at all costs,” according to the blog post. “American corporations are especially adept at causing severe damage to the environment and human health, and some of the worst offenders – including Exxon Mobil, Monsanto and W.R. Grace – have, by and large, gotten away with it.”

Victims of the Tennessee coal ash spill are hopeful the TVA will be held responsible for the massive spill. After all, inspection reports by both the TVA and the state show that the utility knew for several years that there were leaks in the coal ash pond and yet nothing was ever done to repair it. Only after the spill occurred did the public learn just how dangerous coal ash is.

The sludge, which mounded as high as 8 feet in some areas, contains toxins such as arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese and barium that have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, liver damage and neurological complications.

Despite the evidence, some worry that the nation’s largest utility may be given a break from fines and prosecution. “TVA, like all federal agencies, and consistent with the Department of Justice’s position on the issue, is not subject to civil penalties in suits brought by citizen groups under some federal environmental statutes,” says TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci. “It would take legislation to change this.”

Try explaining that to the family who lost their home because the sludge knocked it off the foundation, or the developer whose business is in jeapordy because the lakefront homes aren’t selling because the waterways are contaminated, or the parents of the toddler who tested positive for heavy metals in his bloodstream. No wonder environmental groups and victims of the spill are calling for justice.