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Online Tool Identifies "Neighbor" You Might Not Want

One view of the damage from the 2008 coal-ash disaster at the Kingston Fossil Plant. (Appalachian Voices/Flickr)
One view of the damage from the 2008 coal-ash disaster at the Kingston Fossil Plant. (Appalachian Voices/Flickr)
September 26, 2016

HARRIMAN, Tenn. – There are nine locations across Tennessee, from Memphis to the Tri-Cities, that store toxic coal ash. Now, thanks to an online tool, Tennesseans can access information about where it ends up.

A new website, SoutheastCoalAsh.org, is an interactive tool that allows users to see the exact location of each coal-fired power plant in the state, how and where coal ash is being disposed, and any available data on contamination.

Adam Reaves, high-risk energy coordinator with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the Environmental Protection Agency's coal ash rule was a good start, but not enough to fully protect citizens.

"As utilities begin to close coal-ash pits throughout our region,” Reaves said, "we know that closure doesn't necessarily mean that cleanup of the pits will be thorough, and that the risks of ground- and surface-water contamination will be eliminated."

Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal and contains poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, lead and mercury - which are known to cause cancer and neurological disorders.

The Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant was the site of a coal fly ash slurry spill in 2008. More than a billion gallons of slurry was released into the Emory River, damaging homes and waterways. It was the largest spill in U.S. history.

While there is still a long road ahead to clean up coal ash sites in Tennessee and across the nation, Reaves said Tennesseans now have the ability to make more informed choices and speak up about areas that concern them.

"I think it's exciting to finally have requirement for utilities to give specific types of information,” Reaves said; "to actually disclose the amount of coal ash that they have at their facilities, and especially to disclose certain information about groundwater contamination."

Under the coal ash rule, the utilities have a Nov. 16 deadline to post information about how they plan to close some of their coal ash pits, what method they plan to use, whether the pits are lined or unlined, and the site's hazard level as certified by a professional engineer. Reaves said the site will be updated as that information becomes available.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN