At 1 a.m. this morning, an earthen dam holding back a pond of coal-ash collapsed, and a frigid flow of toxic slurry destroyed 15 homes in the small community of Harriman, Tennessee. The so-called “retainment” dam was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a place to dump poisonous ash left after they burn coal for electricity.
According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “Coal ash is composed primarily of oxides of silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, magnesium, titanium, sodium, potassium, arsenic, mercury, and sulfur plus small quantities of uranium and thorium (my emphasis).” Needless to say, the long term health and environmental impacts of TVA’s pollution will be enormous.
Coal-ash ponds are a little-known but major hazard of coal-fired power plants. And wherever these plants are built, hundreds of acres are sacrificed to be the industrial dump site. Unfortunately, ash containment ponds are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lakes of sludge that threaten Appalachian communties. In fact, the ash-ponds are mud puddles compared to the huge reservoirs that loom above “clean-coal” processing plants.