STEVENSON, Alabama - The Tennessee Valley
Authority has had a second waste spill in three weeks at one of its
coal-fired power plants.
A 10,000 gallon leak of process water from the gypsum pond
at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Alabama was discovered
just before dawn this morning. TVA officials say the leak has stopped.
"The leak from the gypsum pond flowed into an adjacent settling pond,"
the federal electric utility said in a statement this morning. "Some
material overflowed into Widows Creek, although most of the leakage
remained in the settling pond."
Gypsum ponds hold limestone spray from TVA's scrubbers that clean
sulfur dioxide from coal-plant emissions. Gypsum contains calcium
sulfate, which is used in drywall, a commercially sold construction
Widows Creek Fossil Plant, named for the creek that flows through the
plant site, is located on Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River
in northeast Alabama.
TVA notified federal and state authorities and has deployed containment
booms on Widows Creek to trap the contaminated water. The utility says
it will perform temporary repairs to the pond.
Alabama Department of Environmental Management spokesman Scott Hughes
told ENS that the agency has a crew on the scene monitoring Widows
Creek for effects of the spill on aquatic organisms in the creek.
"At noon there was no sign of impact to aquatic organisms," he said.
The city of Scottsboro about 15 miles downstream from the Widows
Creek Fossil Plant uses the Tennessee River as drinking water. Hughes
explained that any contamination from the spill has not had time to
reach this community.
ADEM personnel will provide oversight to ensure cleanup is done in a timely manner, said Hughes.
The eight coal-fired units at Widows Creek generate about 10
billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to supply 650,000
homes. The plant consumes some 10,000 tons of coal a day.
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This leak is the second at a TVA coal-fired power plant in the past
three weeks. On December 22, a retaining wall broke at the TVA's
Kingston Fossil power plant in eastern Tennessee's Roane County, about
100 miles to the northeast of Widows Creek. A billion gallons of coal
ash sludge spilled into the Emory River and across 400 acres of the
surrounding farm and residential neighborhood.
"Even as residents in Roane County Tennessee are still trying
to grasp the full impact of the Kingston disaster, communities in
northeastern Alabama are now threatened with a new toxic coal waste
spill," said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's National Coal
"While initial accounts indicate that this latest spill is smaller than
the Tennessee disaster, we hope that TVA and EPA have learned from the
Tennessee disaster and move quickly to protect residents," said Nilles.
John Wathen, an Alabama resident with Hurricane Creekkeeper,
was in Tennessee taking stock of the Kingston disaster when he heard
about today's spill.
"If this don't stick a finger in the whole clean coal myth, then I don't know what will," said Wathen.
Coal waste can contain harmful substances including lead, mercury and arsenic.
Once spilled, the toxins from the waste can leak into soil and water,
putting people who come in contact with the contamination at risk for
"Shockingly, coal waste is largely unregulated in Alabama," said Gil
Rogers, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in
Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
"Alabamans deserve straight answers from the Alabama Department of
Environmental Management about how it's handling this waste stream at
TVA's Widow Creek plant and if any corrective action procedures are in
place to deal with it.
ADEM's Hughes told ENS, "We inspect all these facilities on an
annual basis. Our focus is to ensure the water discharged from these
impoundments comply with their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination
System permits. The lastest inspection at Widows Creek took place on
May 21, 2008, and Hughes says inspectors found no violations.
"Clearly current regulations are not adequate," said Nilles.
"We need the Environmental Protection Agency to start regulating coal
ash before more communities are put at risk."