Alarm Bells are Ringing – Let’s Wake Up


Ten days ago 82,000 tons of coal ash slurry began to spill into North Carolina’s Dan River due to a 48” broken pipe owned by Duke Energy. This is what a similar 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston TN looks like today – 6 years into a still-ongoing cleanup!

This past October, NWNL documented the cleanup site of the 2008 dike collapse at a TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) coal-ash impoundment. The storage was for a Kingston TN Fossil Plant that provides electricity for Oak Ridge National Labs. One billion gallons of slushy coal ash spilled into the Emory River (a tributary to the Tennessee River), and onto 300 acres, covering farms, homes and waterways with up to 6 feet of sludge. Tennessee fined TVA $11.5 million for violating state clean water and solid waste disposal laws.

Such disasters typically stem from lack of comprehensive Federal Regulations on handling and disposal of coal ash, non-compliance of existing regulations, and little or no compliance supervision. To learn more about coal ash spills, and follow the Dan River cleanup and legal actions underway in North Carolina, go to

Cleaning up TVA's coal fly ash spill
Cleaning up TVA’s coal fly ash spill

For 6 years, the TVA clean up has been repairing the soil, a washed out road, a ruptured major gas line, an obstructed railroad line, a water main and power lines. TVA’s cleanup extends 6 miles upstream and 1.5 miles downstream to “bring the area back to the way it was before and even better.” TVA told NWNL in October that the covered storage of this spill is earthquake-proof down to bedrock (a unique feature for cleanups thus far) and that the river’s fish and fresh-water mussels that were affected have been recolonized.

A similar cleanup is now needed for NC’s Dan River spill.  In an effort to prevent further spills, TVA is spending $1.5 to $2 billion to convert all other TVA coal plants to dry ash storage in a ten-year plan. North Carolina’s Duke Energy now states it has been planning ash basin closures.

This month’s North Carolina spill comes on the heels of West Virginia’s chemical spill into its Elk River, which left 300,000 people with non-potable water for days. The continuance of such spills damaging our rivers, ecosystems and fresh water supplies is one more wake-up call that we need to become more responsible with our waste. Our polluting waste includes coal slurry – and nuclear waste, desalinization’s briny residue, toxic chemicals and pharmaceuticals. These pollutants dirty our rivers, kill our fish and damage our crops.

Emory River in TN, upstream of the 2008 spill
Emory River in TN, upstream of the 2008 spill

As conservation author Wallace Stegner wrote,
Something will have gone out of us as a people if we let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence . . .” 

2 thoughts on “Alarm Bells are Ringing – Let’s Wake Up

  1. Incredibly disappointing that we seem to be going backwards on protecting the environment even knowing that our survival depends on it. Stunning. Thanks for the post!

  2. The state is still testing the water as there have been multiple complaints about the odors. They will also do a longterm study to see if there are birth defects related to a chemical used in coal processing. Many residents are buying their drinking water for 99 cents a gallon.

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