Just after midnight on December 22, our own levees broke, and a man-made pond containing toxic ash - essentially the leftovers from the nearby coal-burning power plant - burst its walls, and more than one billion gallons of coal ash spilled into the Tennessee River and its tributaries.
The spill is 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, and one of the greatest environmental disasters in our nation's history. Imagine a river nearby to where you live: healthy, full of aquatic life, essential to community, ecology and economy. Now imagine that same body of water now filled with a grey-black sludge almost volcanic in proportion and density, full of toxins and poisons.
So we need your help here in eastern Tennessee.
Environmentalists on the ground here are calling it an "Un-Natural Disaster.'' The Kingston coal power plant is one of the many energy plants owned and operated by the governmental agency known as the Tennessee Valley Authority. Created in the Roosevelt years as a source of employment and power for legions of poor folks in Appalachia, TVA continues to burn coal as a source of energy, and in the process, must dispose of the ash waste through retention ponds, not unlike aqua-landfills. A few years ago, studies suggested the Kingston retention pond needed updates, the most effective also being the most costly. TVA settled for the cheaper way out.
And then December 22, when the walls burst and the pond no longer was able to hold back the black ash.
And now, folks in eastern Tennessee are realizing with damning clarity what environmentalists have been saying for decades: there is no such thing as clean coal.
"It is clear that, in its early response, TVA prioritized public relations over public health and has largely been overwhelmed by the size of this spill, which appears to be the largest industrial spill in our nation's history,'' testified Stephen Smith, executive direction of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, as he appeared before the US Senate last week. "It is outrageous that the landfills holding our household garbage are more regulated than the pits holding this toxic coal sludge.''
Ash waste contains a witch's brew of contaminants: arsenic, lead, selenium, mercury, cadmium, chromium, boron, thallium and molybdenum. With this in mind, activists on the ground are asking TVA a host of questions that continue to go unanswered, foremost among them: why are independent agencies and volunteer groups doing more work to safeguard the people than you?
Why is a small, volunteer led group called United Mountain Defense Fund having to raise money to provide heavy metal screening for folks impacted by the disaster? Why is TVA not paying for this?
Why is UMD passing out more bottled water than TVA?
Why did the first water samples released to the public come from UMD and another watchdog group Appalachian Voices, and not from TVA? Incidentally, the Appalachian Voices samples found "concentrations of eight toxic chemicals range from twice to 300 times higher than drinking water limits.''
So here in east Tennessee, we need your help. We need you to get the word out that there is no such thing as clean coal. We need the rest of the nation to hear that a spill - 40 times larger than the Valdez wreck - has destroyed the waters and communities around Kingston, TN, and that it could happen again. We need your help to support the workers on the ground whose blood, sweat and tears are keeping these communities together. Matt Landon, the full-time volunteer for United Mountain Defense, is running on empty and needs funds. You can help by visiting unitedmountaindefense.org.
And we need you to hear this story, so that coal is no longer considered clean, and so that the old lie that says humans are to subdue and conquer, to property-own and pollute, no longer is able to spill out its poison into the rivers and streams and land and bodies of people everywhere.