Thursday, January 08, 2009

RADIOACTIVE?? TVA Disaster is much worse than imagined. UPDATE x II

(UPDATE: On Monday, Jeff Farias is going to interview Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, who is going to be testifying on this spill in front of the Environment and Public Works Senate Panel on Thursday, January 8th. Smith is going to be joined by a number of citizens who live there, and Jeff will follow up on Monday and talk to him and one of those citizens.

Hope to see ya there... you can join us in live chat about this at Democracy Interactive.)

"Imagined" is apparently the key word with the TVA, btw. This does not surprise me, unfortunately. What DOES surprise me is that there has been no real media coverage on what may be the very worst man-made environmental disaster in this country, ever. Water testing by Appalachian State University is showing 35-300 ppm more arsenic and 6-60 ppm more lead than the EPA water drinking standards. What has not been discussed is that coal ash is radioactive, and at this point I have not found any evidence that measurements of uranium or thorium are being monitored. Let's try and change that!

From Waterkeepers and Appalachian Voices take water samples at TVA spill

This is worse than the Exxon Valdez, which is still not cleaned up, and I submit this is worse than Katrina, though it doesn't look that way yet, but the health and environmental devastation that will follow from this is not even conceivable at this point. I consider Katrina a man made environmental disaster because we could have saved the levees. Katrina was horrible. But so is this.

I will get to the radioactive issue in a moment, but today a test of the water quality from the Emory River was released from the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry labs at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, by Dr. Shea Tuberty, Associate Professor of Biology, and Dr. Carol Babyak, Assistant Professor of Chemistry.

“Although these results are preliminary, we want to release them because of the public health concern and because we believe the TVA and EPA aren’t being candid,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chair of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Results of the ICP-OES Analyses of the TVA ash spill samples collected 12-27-08 from the Emory River (PDF file)

All water samples were found to contain elevated levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel and thallium. The samples were taken from the immediate area of the coal
waste spill, in front of the Kingston Fossil plant intake canal just downstream from the spill site, and at a power line crossing two miles downstream from the spill.

“I have never seen levels of arsenic, lead and copper this high in natural waters,” said Babyak. "

This is incredibly worrisome, but apparently this article shows that fly coal ash has radioactive elements, uranium and thorium, in much higher concentrations than the original coal that was mined,and that the burning of this fly ash 10 times more radioactive.

Coal, meanwhile, is believed responsible for a host of more quotidian problems, such as mining accidents, acid rain and greenhouse gas emissions. But it isn't supposed to spawn three-eyed fish like Blinky.

Over the past few decades, however, a series of studies has called these stereotypes into question. Among the surprising conclusions: the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy. *

At issue is coal's content of uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements. They occur in such trace amounts in natural, or "whole," coal that they aren't a problem. But when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels. [See Editor's Note at end of page 2]

Fly ash uranium sometimes leaches into the soil and water surrounding a coal plant, affecting cropland and, in turn, food. People living within a "stack shadow"—the area within a half- to one-mile (0.8- to 1.6-kilometer) radius of a coal plant's smokestacks—might then ingest small amounts of radiation. Fly ash is also disposed of in landfills and abandoned mines and quarries, posing a potential risk to people living around those areas.

In a 1978 paper for Science, J. P. McBride at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and his colleagues looked at the uranium and thorium content of fly ash from coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and Alabama. To answer the question of just how harmful leaching could be, the scientists estimated radiation exposure around the coal plants and compared it with exposure levels around boiling-water reactor and pressurized-water nuclear power plants.

The result: estimated radiation doses ingested by people living near the coal plants were equal to or higher than doses for people living around the nuclear facilities. At one extreme, the scientists estimated fly ash radiation in individuals' bones at around 18 millirems (thousandths of a rem, a unit for measuring doses of ionizing radiation) a year. Doses for the two nuclear plants, by contrast, ranged from between three and six millirems for the same period. And when all food was grown in the area, radiation doses were 50 to 200 percent higher around the coal plants.

I hated to quote so much, but these are significant issues that are being overlooked by the media. People are MISSING this part of the information!

So the people in Tennessee are surrounded by this stuff, and the environment is being inundated, not only with 17 heavy metals that EPA drinking water standards has limits on, but also with radioactive elements. This is NOT being discussed, or even looked at. They are not being even warned about their WATER, let alone the effects of this toxic stew they are still living around. Anyone in the area of this disaster needs to re-situated as soon as possible. That river will not be fishable in the foreseeable future. This is a toxic mess and is Bush's fault for hiring cronies in the areas that could do something about this. What a great legacy for your outgoing 14 days!

Of course the heavy metals are a story in and of themselves and need to be looked at from every angle, and they are very serious:

Due to the porous topography in the Kingston and Harriman region, well and spring water contamination is one of the primary concerns for nearby populations. “The springs and the well
water in that area need to be closely monitored to see if there is any movement of these arsenic compounds and other heavy metals percolating down through the soil into these wells, because the [surface] levels are 300 times higher,” said Tuberty. “That’s a dangerous level.”

“The highest level of risk you can have with these heavy metals is actually ingesting them,” Tuberty said. “Either drinking or eating them is really the only way it will become an issue, unless you are breathing them. That is coming into play with these ash piles, from drying and becoming picked up from the winds. You can actually breathe them in and that’s the third way you can become exposed to them.”

“The ecosystems around Kingston and Harriman are going to be in trouble, the aquatic ones for some time, until nature is able to bury these compounds in the environment,” said Tuberty. “I don’t know how long that will take, maybe generations.”

If you look at the Emory River, you can see that it is a a tributary to the Clinch River, and that's a tributary to the Tennessee River. This major river feeds water to Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Georgia.

And eventually our oceans. Everything that spilled into the water lands there and goes DOWNSTREAM. Where it spilled it will never go away either, and while heavy metals will eventually be absorbed into the soil, it takes a long time to get rid of radioactive isotopes. I'm afraid Tuberty is vastly underestimating the effects at this point.

I wouldn't drink the water there, nor grow vegetables there... Hell I wouldn't live there at this point. Nor would I live downstream!

Coal Ash Kids
Is this the legacy we leave to that generation?

This is tremendously sad, and I place the blame on Bush. I worked for the Environmental Defense Fund in the 90's, for the Toxics Program, we focused on lead and other heavy metals, as well as dioxin. When I saw what had happened my alarm bells went off big time, because I knew this was much worse than it looked. This waste pool should have been superfunded and cleaned up years ago. This is a critical issue and must be addressed immediately after Obama takes office. Otherwise more of these things will make our country "toxic zones".

And while we are at it, we can make sure that he understands we KNOW that there is no such thing as "clean coal". When you rape the earth for it's resources, this is what happens. "Clean coal" is delusional, because no amount of "sequestration" addresses the coal ash, or the rapacious methods to get the coal. It's a dinosaur technology. I think this accident was hopefully a wake up call.

In the meantime, please complain to the press that they aren't covering this story better.

But what else is new?

This is really a neglected story, from any way you look at it, and the people of Tennessee are facing an enormous challenge to their eco-system, their health, and their future. These folks are generally ignored by the news, and this story HAS been ignored in the news except for the local news (kudos to the local news, btw). So the more people who know about this, the better. For that person in the diary that was unaware that this happened at all, here's a link. I'm not surprised you didn't know.

In the end, this disaster could have been prevented. So now that we have a new administration, we need to do what we can to make sure nothing like this happens again.

Crossposted at EPluribus Media


Greg Draiss said...

Dear Joy:

If not for a lawn where would your chidren run around barefoot?

Where would they play tag, hunt for night crawlers, play catch etc.

Where would they lay at night counting stars or during the day making sculptures from fluffy clouds?

No one said a lawn need take up the entire garden. My 1/2 acre lawn has been reduced to 5,000 sq ft over the last 5 years replaced with vegetable and herb gardens and 8,000 sq ft left to grow wild and serve as home to beneficial insects for my ORGANIC gardens.

For a lawn is part of the garden.


Fancy Pants Elitist said...

If I had kids that might concern me.