Trickle-down effect causing problems for coal ash disposal

It was bad enough when the coal ash impoundment pond at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston, Tenn., plant holding more than a billion gallons of toxic sludge ruptured, sending a wave of coal ash onto a neighboring community and into nearly waterways. Cleaning it up hasn’t been a walk on the beach. One challenge was locating a landfill that would accept the recovered coal ash. The newest issue is finding a company willing to treat the wastewater from that landfill.

Coal ash recovered from the Kingston spill is being shipped by train car to Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, Ala. That deal is generating a handful of jobs and millions in storage fees for the chronically poor and predominantly black community. Despite the benefits, residents say the coal ash is stinking up their town. And they are worried about the toxins seeping into the ground and contaminating their water. Coal ash contains arsenic and carcinogenic heavy metals. So far residents’ concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

But not in south Alabama, where the coal ash effects have been trickling down. Runoff water from the Arrowhead Landfill was originally shipped to a water treatment plant in Marion, Ala., and discharged into a creek. After a community outcry, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the runoff be taken elsewhere.

The new location? Liquid Environmental Solutions, a wastewater processing plant in Mobile, Ala. The plant “properly accepted, tested and treated the non-hazardous Perry County landfill wastewater” just before it was routed through the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System and discharged into Mobile Bay, according to a statement by Liquid Environmental Solutions senior vice president Dana King. Recently, the company decided to stop accepting shipments of wastewater from the landfill after community members express concerns. Where will the coal ash runoff be shipped now? TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said it is “something that will have to be worked out” by the companies involved.