Wednesday, May 13, 2009

EPA & UMD Conference Call

May 13, 2009
Today United Mountain Defense had a conference call with the Environmental Protection Agency about the agreement they recently entered with TVA to oversee the cleanup efforts of the coal ash disaster.
This agreement was entered under the Administrative Order Superfund Law also known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA.

Below is a summary of the questions asked by UMD on this conference call and paraphrased answers from the EPA.

Question - Is the TVA disaster site a superfund?

Response – It is not listed on the national priority list because it is a removal and cleanup effort.

Question – Is the EPA the lead agency for the cleanup effort in the TVA disaster site.
Response – EPA is overseeing all cleanup efforts and has the final approval in all decisions since the order has been signed.

Questions – Does this mean that the EPA is replacing TDEC as the lead regulatory agency?

Response – We have the final approval on all decisions.

Questions – What is your plan for public participating?

Reponses – You can read this on our question and answer press release.

At this time we explained that we had read the statement they release and we had some concerns about the way they are approaching the public participation component of Superfund law. We expressed concern that public participation would not be part of certain “time critical actions” such as dredging, dust suppression, ash storage, etc.

The EPA said that it was true that many of these “time critical action” would take place before public comments are collected but that they would allow for public input and this input could be taken into consideration for specific actions.

They also said the permanent storage of the coal ash is not considered a “time critical action” and that they would wait until public hearings take place before they begin storing the coal ash. At this point we asked them about the coal ash that has already left the site on railcars and been transported by train south into Georgia and possibly other areas. They said this was part of a “pilot project” and they did not know where the coal ash was going but they would get back to us with details.

Questions- When will the first public hearing take place?

Response - We just recently arrived on site and need some time to get our feet on the ground.

At this point we let the EPA know that arranging public participation also needs to be a “time critical action” and should happen as soon as possible so that those who have had their lives changed by this disaster can be involved in decisions that impact their health and environment.

We also explained that we have been on the ground at the disaster site since it first happened and we are interested in making sure any agency in charge of cleanup efforts are transparent in their actions and open and responsive to the concerns of the community.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Emory River Dredges Itself

Locals in Roane County reported on Monday, May 4th that there was a large amount of coal ash flowing out of the disaster site and downriver. There were heavy rains from Friday to Sunday and some parts of Roan County received up to 5 inches of rain.
The rain caused a massive flow that picked up debris and sediment from inlets and the bottom of the river and sent it all down stream into the Clinch and Tennessee rivers. On Monday the flow peaked at 70,000 cubic feet per second and the usual flow is between 700 to 1,000 cubic feet per second.

Video of Emory and Clinch rivers the day after the massive rain event.
Tuesday, May 6th Roane County TN

Pictures from the day after the rain event

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Clinch River on April 27th

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.