Only a couple days before Christmas, a coal plant in Kingston, Tennessee, spilled sludge across an area larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdese spill. The Tennessee Valley Authority says that 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal sludge spilled out of a coal plant retention pond last week, affecting many homes and local roads. The sludge has leaked into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides drinking water to millions of people in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.
There were over 500 million gallons of arsenic-filled sludge spilled, covering over 400 acres of land. Why is this not a bigger news story? It seems like major media is only glossing over this ecological catastrophy. This isn’t even the first time we’ve seen a sludge spill like this from a coal plant. Eight years ago, there was a similar spill in eastern Kentucky. The coal sludge impoundment owned by Massey Energy broke into an abandoned underground mine, oozing more than 300 million gallons of coal waste into nearby tributaries.
Wondering where all this sludge comes from? Here’s how this all works: These power plants burn loads and loads of coal. In addition to all of the greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, they produce a huge amount of ash. How do they dispose of all the ash? Coal companies dig a big ditch and fill it with the soot. When it rains, the ash turns into sludge. When it rains a whole lot, the sludge pits can overflow. So they build dams and walls to hold in the sludge. When the sludge is a large enough volume, the dams break and cover acres and acres of wild land with black muck. Sometimes the sludge covers homes, schools, etc.
Coal power is a dirty business; the environmental movement has been saying this for years now. Wind turbines and solar panels don’t cover towns in sludge and they don’t pump out carbon dioxide. Sure, if a wind turnbine falls over, it’s a bad situation, but at least it doesn’t cover the nearby area in toxic, goopy slop. We need to get rid of fossil fuel power plants all together. Hopefully this spill will act as a wake-up call for politicians, we need clean, renewable energy now.
Do something about it:
photo from Flickr, via creativecommons.org. http://flickr.com/photos/aid_precious_ones/
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