Report lists Rogersville TVA plant among water polluters

Jeff Bobo • Feb 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — A report released Wednesday by two environmental watchdog groups places the John Sevier Fossil Plant in Rogersville among 31 coal ash contamination sites that are poisoning water with arsenic and other toxic metals.

The report was completed by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice.

This list of 31 contamination sites is in addition to 70 sites already recognized as severe polluters by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

A Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman told the Times-News Wednesday TVA was studying the report and might release a statement in response on Thursday.

According to the report, water samples taken from groundwater wells near the Rogersville TVA plant showed toxic pollution levels well above acceptable federal standards for drinking water and consumption of fish.

The Persia Water Utility, which serves approximately 4,395 people, operates a water supply intake from the Holston River less than two miles downriver from the John Sevier Fossil Plant. Morristown operates a municipal water intake on the Holston River 31 miles downriver from the Rogersville plant and serves approximately 31,000 people.

The Rogersville Water Department gets its water supply from Big Creek, a tributary to the Holston River not affected by the TVA plant.

According to the report, data from groundwater monitoring wells located between the plant’s coal combustion waste surface impoundment and the Holston River show that cadmium, aluminum, manganese and sulfate levels exceed the EPA acceptable limits for drinking water.

In addition, arsenic and manganese exceed EPA National Recommended Water Quality Criteria for human health, and cadmium levels exceed both chronic and acute levels for freshwater aquatic life, the report states.

More specific figures are available in the actual report, which can be found online at www.environmentalintegrity.org.

Groundwater monitoring reports from May 2009 at the Rogersville plant show arsenic levels 15 times higher than the EPA’s human health criteria for fish consumption, the report states.

It also shows manganese levels more than 50 times higher than the EPA’s human health criteria for fish consumption, the report states.

High levels of boron and strontium are also noted.

All of these pollutants were measured in shallow groundwater wells adjacent to the river or tributary streams, the report states.

The study concludes that coal combustion waste leachate from the Rogersville TVA plant is contaminating groundwater, which discharges to the Holston River, Dodson Creek and Polly Branch.

“While the catastrophic spill at TVA’s Kingston plant has become the poster child for the damage that coal ash can wreak, there are hundreds of leaking sites throughout the United States where the damage is deadly but far less conspicuous,” said Jeff Stant, the director of EIP’s Coal Combustion Waste Initiative. “This problem needs an immediate national solution — in the form of federally enforceable standards that protect every community near coal ash dump sites. Water sources contaminated by coal ash may eventually be cleaned up, but only at great expense over long periods of time.

“Injury to human health or wildlife, however, cannot always be reversed. The data are overwhelming, and these 31 sites sound a clear warning that the EPA must heed before much more damage is done.”

Rogersville’s pollution figures weren’t nearly as bad as some of the other locations mentioned in the study, some of which showed pollution levels 145 times higher than EPA acceptable standards.

The 31 sites mentioned in the report are located in 14 states: one in Delaware; three in Florida; one in Illinois; two in Indiana; one in Maryland; one in Michigan; one in Montana; one in Nevada; one in New Mexico; six in North Carolina; six in Pennsylvania; three in South Carolina; two in West Virginia; and two in Tennessee.

The report states that at 15 of the 31 sites, contamination has already migrated off the power plant property at levels that exceed drinking water or surface water quality standards including Tennessee’s other site to make the list, Trans Ash Inc.’s coal combustion waste landfill in Camden.

The remaining 16 show evidence of severe on-site pollution, the report states.

Because off-site monitoring data at 14 of these 16 sites was not available, damage may be more severe and widespread than indicated in the report.

Based on similar criteria, the EPA has already identified 70 coal combustion waste damage cases, 23 of which are known to have caused off-site contamination.

The 31 new cases identified in this report bring the total number of damaged sites to 101, but it claims that is only “the tip of the iceberg.”

The report further states: “The EPA has acknowledged that most coal ash ponds and a significant portion of coal ash landfills are unlined, or inadequately lined, and unmonitored. Consequently, at hundreds of coal combustion waste disposal sites where there is great risk that dangerous pollutants are migrating from the ash to the underlying groundwater, there is no monitoring to track this movement.”

EIP is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws.

Earthjustice is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.

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