TVA says Emory River coal ash cleanup nearly completed

The cleanup effort in east Tennessee following the December 2008 spill of coal ash from a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) impoundment pond is costing more than the utility had expected, but so far the results look promising, says director of the TVA’s cleanup effort, Steve McCracken.

Since the cleanup began, the effort has been focused on the Emory River, dredging the bottom of the waterway to keep as much ash as possible from floating downstream. Approximately 70 percent of the river has been dredged and the agency hopes to have the river cleanup completed by May.

The spill raised concerns by those living nearby. Coal ash contains arsenic and carcinogenic heavy metals that can be harmful to humans as well as wildlife. Locals have questioned the quality of their water supply. McCracken says testing of the water downstream has turned up clear and intakes for drinking water appear not to have been affected by the contamination. Monitoring of water downstream is expected to continue indefinitely.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there will be a long-term monitoring program to determine that indeed there is no impact to people off-site,” McCracken told WPLN News.

But the spill also dampened the area’s appeal, covering pastures with gray sludge and all but destroying water recreation activities such as swimming, boating and fishing. McCracken assures that the cleanup effort has been so successful that swimming can resume in the waterways downstream from the spill; however, people may want to steer clear of the dredges.