On Monday, March 27 I went for a boat ride near the TVA disaster site and below is an update of what I saw.
We put in at Ladd’s Landing right at the confluence of the Clinch and Emory rivers. TVA had posted restricted access to the Emory River just across from Ladd’s Landing and extending all the way to the coal plant 2 miles upstream. Not being able to get close enough to document the cleanup effort we decided to explore downriver.
We saw cenospheres (a by-product of coal burning power plants) collecting in inlets and near banks of the Clinch River.
We also saw cenospheres floating in the middle of the Clinch River.
As we explored downstream we had the opportunity to view wildlife enjoying the warm weather. East Tennessee is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet with a plethora of aquatic species living in our beautiful river habitats. With a background in wildlife and fisheries biology I have always found reptiles fascinating and relish the chance to see a snake in nature.
When we came across this water snake it was a treat to watch.
It is a shame that is was basking in the sun on top of this boom designed to collect the ash and debris floating down from the disaster site.
This Osprey is nesting with babies on a channel marker downstream from the coal ash disaster. The Osprey has earned the nickname “Fish Hawk” because they feed exclusively on fish and hunt by diving beneath the surface of the water to capture fish with their barbed padded feet. Not long ago Ospreys were considered endangered, victims of pesticides such as DDT, illegal hunting and habitat loss. The unregulated use of pesticides was the largest contributor to their decline. By eating contaminated prey, the birds ingested the toxins which then caused them to lay eggs so thin they would break when sat upon.
Watts Bar was the site of an osprey reintroduction project and today there are estimated to be 130 active osprey nests on the Watts Bar Reservoir which makes this area (a few miles downstream from the coal disaster) the most densely populated osprey habitat in East Tennessee.
The wildlife weren’t the only ones enjoying this unusually hot and sunny east Tennessee spring day. Some people were using the river for recreation.
Fishing(the bird and the people)
Playing on jet skies(they were waiting for our boat to make a wake for them to play in)
Even swimming at the Kingston City Park
All of these pictures were taken less than 5 miles downstream from the worst coal disaster in US history.
This is what the river looks like today a few miles upstream from where these pictures were taken.
According to TVA recreation in the area should not be impacted by the disaster and the Tennessee Department of Health’s fact sheets says that people should not come into contact with the coal ash but that it is safe to recreate in the water and eat most kinds of fish in the river. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has issued a fish consumption advisory against eating striped bass and a precautionary advisory for catfish and sauger.
Our government agencies are telling us the water is safe to swim in and the fish are safe to eat. However this advice goes without taking into consideration that there is already scientific water monitoring data showing high levels of arsenic and other heavy metals near the disaster site. This advice also goes without taking into consideration the evidence that shows the toxins in coal ash build up in bodies over time, sometimes with lethal effects. The bioaccumulation of heavy metals in fish and other aquatic life happens over time and the metals can slowly move their way up the food chain.