Five years ago, Tennessee residents witnessed one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation’s history.
It was in the wee hours of the morning of December 22, 2008, in the town of Kingston, when a poorly constructed levy at the local Tennessee Valley Authority power plant ruptured unexpectedly, spilling over a billion gallons of coal ash onto the sleeping town below.
The raging torrent of toxic waste rushed downstream, destroying or damaging more than two dozen houses in its wake, and contaminating over 300 acres of shoreline and rivers. It was truly a miracle that there were no fatalities. This event was named the biggest toxic waste spill in U.S. history, and plant operators are only now finally restoring the damage done.
In the months following the disaster, serious changes in how coal waste is handled were called for, and the dangers of coal ash came into the public spotlight. People who had never before heard of coal ash began asking questions that should have been asked long ago, such as “What are the dangers of coal ash?” The answers they found were highly disturbing.
Coal ash contains a number of toxic metals, such as arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, chromium and others. Coming into contact with any one of these substances can cause an array of health complications, including:
- Nervous system damage
- Various forms of cancers
- Kidney disease
- Developmental birth defects, like reduced IQ and Autism
- Even death
Despite what the residents of Kingston went through, five years later there are still no federal protections or regulations for coal ash, and a growing number of concerned citizens are asking their local and state government what happened to the “changes” that were promised.
“[Government officials] should know these stories of coal ash contamination,” said Earthjustice, one of many environmental and public health organizations seeking to raise awareness of dumping practices (and author of the helpful infographic below). “Let’s hope that by the 6th anniversary, long overdue protections are finally in place.”
But even while the people of Kingston wait for change, it’s not all bad news on the coal industry front.
It was announced last month that TVA will retire three of its coal-fired power plants, based on an agreement with the EPA. A number of additional plants will also be affected, including six units in Alabama and two in Kentucky. Paradise Unit 3, one of TVA’s largest coal units, will continue to operate.
“There is a demonstrated link between pollution and asthma in children,” said Tiffany Schauer, executive director of Our Children’s Earth Foundation. “Thanks to today’s action, every family in Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee can breathe a little easier.”
If you have been affected by the improper handling of toxic waste or pollution, the industry or manufacturer responsible for the contamination must be held accountable for your injuries or suffering. Talk to a Tennessee pollution and toxic injury attorney immediately.