Coal Ash

2 Tennessee cases bring coal’s hidden hazard to light

The Gallatin Fossil Plant, a coal-burning power plant run by the Tennessee Valley Authority in Gallatin, Tenn. Coal ash from the plant has been seeping into groundwater and the river, two recent lawsuits say, possibly threatening drinking water for a million people (credit: Joe Buglewicz/The New York Times).

GALLATIN, TN — “The hulking Gallatin Fossil Plant sits on a scenic bend of the Cumberland River about 30 miles upstream from Nashville. In addition to generating electricity, the plant, built in the early 1950s by the Tennessee Valley Authority, produces more than 200,000 tons of coal residue a year. That coal ash, mixed with water and sluiced into pits and ponds on the plant property, has been making its way into groundwater and the river, potentially threatening drinking water supplies, according to two current lawsuits.

Coal ash, the hazardous byproduct of burning coal to produce power, is a particularly insidious legacy of the nation’s dependence on coal. Unlike the visible and heavily regulated airborne emissions from power plant smokestacks, coal ash is largely unseen unless there is a major spill and, until recently, far less effectively regulated.

More than 100 million tons of coal ash is produced every year, one of the nation’s largest and most vexing streams of toxic waste. The hazardous dust and sludge — containing arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals — fill more than a thousand landfills and bodies of water in nearly every state, threatening air, land, water and human health.”

— Tatiana Schlossberg, The New York Times

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