Gambling ‘America’s Amazon’ – CNN

December 13, 2021 by No Comments

A predawn phone call woke Ron Bledsoe with a jolt. It was his supervisor telling him to come in.

Bledsoe dressed and drove an hour to the power plant, near Kingston, Tennessee, where he worked. He arrived at a shocking sight: A mountain of coal ash covering the road and a set of railroad tracks. It looked like the surface of the moon, he recalled.

Hours earlier, an embankment at the plant had ruptured, flooding the area with gray muck. The spill was an environmental calamity, and the fallout was immediate. The ash blanketed up to 400 acres, killed hundreds of fish, damaged more than a dozen homes and polluted nearby waterways. The clean-up took years and cost more than $1 billion.

Coal ash, an umbrella term for the residue that’s left over when utilities burn coal, is one of the United States’ largest kinds of industrial waste. It contains metals — such as lead, mercury, chromium, selenium, cadmium and arsenic — that never biodegrade. Studies have shown these contaminants are dangerous to humans and have linked some to cancer, lung disease and birth defects.

For a time, the Kingston incident catapulted coal ash into the public consciousness. But experts say it continues to pose a massive threat throughout the country.

About 400 miles southwest of Kingston, a coal ash lagoon — which holds almost four times as much sludge as what spilled in Tennessee — is sitting in the Mobile–Tensaw Delta, one of the most biodiverse areas of the United States, with flora and fauna not known to exist anywhere else on Earth. Environmentalists, community members and scientists fear the pond could someday unleash a Kingston-like catastrophe on southern Alabama and say leaving the coal ash in the delta is shortsighted and dangerous.

“We’ve got an A-bomb up the river,” John Howard, who lives in Mobile County and said he has been fishing in southern Alabama for decades, said. “It’s just waiting to happen.”

Most Americans had likely never heard of coal ash until three days before Christmas 2008, when the Kingston spill news broke.

Before the 1970s, many utilities pumped their coal ash into the atmosphere, attorney Lisa Evans, who has focused on coal ash litigation for more than 20 years, said. After Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970, which regulated power plants’ air emissions, some facilities began storing their coal ash in dirt ditches, commonly known today as ash ponds or surface impoundments.




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