Friday, March 26, 2010

EPA Proposes Veto of Permit for Major Mountaintop-Removal Coal Mine

Published: March 26, 2010
U.S. EPA proposed a veto today of the Clean Water Act permit issued for one of Central Appalachia's largest mountaintop-removal coal mines.
Photo by John L. Wathen

If finalized, the veto would invalidate the Army Corps of Engineers' permit for the Spruce No. 1 surface mine in southern West Virginia that was first issued in 2007.
Arch Coal Inc.'s Spruce No. 1 mine would degrade surrounding water quality, fill more than 7 miles of headwater streams and affect more than 2,000 acres of forest, EPA said.
"Coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation's energy future, and for that reason EPA has made repeated efforts to foster dialogue and find a responsible path forward. But we must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution -- and the damage from this project would be irreversible," said Shawn Garvin, the EPA's mid-Atlantic regional administrator.
"This recommendation is consistent with our broader Clean Water Act efforts in Central Appalachia. EPA has a duty under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on these waters for drinking, fishing and swimming."
Under the Clean Water Act, EPA has veto power over all Army Corps permits for surface coal mines, but it has used that authority 12 times since 1972. The agency has never before vetoed a previously issued permit.
The proposal will be published in the Federal Register, initiating a 60-day public comment period. EPA has also pledged to hold a field hearing in West Virginia.
St. Louis-based Arch Coal objected to the proposal and said it would consider court action to stop the veto from going forward.
"The Spruce permit is the most scrutinized and fully considered permit in West Virginia's history. The 13-year permitting process included the preparation of a full environmental impact statement, the only permit in the eastern coal fields to ever undergo such review," said the company in a statement. "We are evaluating all possible options for relief from the government's actions and intend to vigorously defend the Spruce permit by all legal means."
Environmental groups who have opposed the mine since it was first proposed in the late '90s called on EPA to follow through on the proposed veto.
"It is good to see the EPA applying a more scientifically rigorous analysis to these permits, and we hope that the agency follows through on this recommendation," said Ed Hopkins, director of environmental quality for the Sierra Club. "The administration needs to fix the Bush administration rulemaking that allows mines to fill waterways with waste."
Copyright 2010 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
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TVA chief trying to avoid deposition in ash spill

Bloomberg Business Week
TVA chief trying to avoid deposition in ash spill
March 25, 2010, 5:20PM ET

Attorneys for hundreds of people suing the Tennessee Valley Authority over a massive coal ash spill asked a federal magistrate Thursday to force the utility's top executive to answer their questions in a deposition.
Nearly a dozen plaintiffs' attorneys at the hearing contend that TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore may have had opportunities to avert the December 2008 spill, based on a report by the TVA's Office of Inspector General.

TVA attorneys told U.S. Magistrate Bruce Guyton that Kilgore shouldn't have to give a deposition, since he wasn't directly involved until after the spill at TVA's Kingston Plant west of Knoxville.

Guyton did not immediately rule but set an April 18 deadline for TVA attorneys to file a supplement to Kilgore's statement about his role with the TVA Enterprise Risk Council.

TVA has projected the ongoing cleanup of 5.4 million cubic yards of ash that breached an earthen dike, flowed into the Emory River and surrounding landscape will cost $1.2 billion. The utility expects to continue dredging the arsenic- and mercury-laced ash from the river until late spring and will work on the remaining spill area for several years.

"He (Kilgore) is in this up to his neck," said Jeff Friedman, an attorney for several of the litigants seeking damages. "He approved expenses or refused to make expenses to fix the dike."
Photo by John L. Wathen

Plaintiff attorneys have also said in court filings that they have a right to question what Kilgore learned when he arrived at the spill and whether he could have had any "forewarning that the disaster was likely or imminent."

TVA attorney Ed Small told Guyton that the request to depose Kilgore is too broadly based. Small said Kilgore, the utility's president and CEO since 2005, was not with the nation's largest utility when the ash pond structures were designed.

"His connection to the facility (in Kingston) is no more than his connection to the facility in Paducah, Kentucky," Small told the court.

TVA attorneys also said a deposition by Kilgore would be premature because the court hasn't ruled on the utility's motion to dismiss claims for punitive damages.

Nineteen TVA employees have already given depositions.

TVA has nearly 9 million consumers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Even The Cows Have Cancer: EPA Weighs Tougher Regulation of Toxic Coal Ash

Even The Cows Have Cancer: 


EPA Weighs Tougher Regulation of 

Toxic Coal Ash


 From Huffington Post...

Laura Bassett - 03/24/2010 09:39 AM
Arrowhead Landfill
Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, AL
"I've lost neighbors to lung cancer who have never smoked," she said. "I've lost them to brain cancer, breast, throat, colon, multiple myeloma, pre-leukemia. When my son, who's in his 20s, came home to visit, he said, 'Mom, is it normal for your mouth to taste like metal?' We pulled over and he coughed until he got sick."
Young has no doubt about what she believes is causing all the cancer: coal. For the past 10 years she's lived in Meigs County, Ohio, the center of the second largest concentration of coal plants in the nation, and has become an environmental activist.
"There isn't a house on this road that hasn't been touched by cancer... I had melanoma and I currently have two more precancerous conditions for breast and thyroid cancer, none of which are in my family," said Young, 47. "My dog died of cancer, my best friend's dog died of lymphoma. I just gave up a dog because I couldn't afford to take him into the vet. He was getting lumps on him."
Each year, coal-burning power plants release nearly 100 million tons of toxic fly ash into wet ponds, rivers and landfills, according to a 2009 report by Earthjustice, an environmental legal advocacy organization. A 2007 risk assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency found that people who live near one of these coal ash waste sites have as high as a 1 in 50 chance of developing cancer, as well as an increased risk of damage to the lungs, kidneys, liver and other organs as a result of exposure to toxic metals. Further, says the report, the danger to wildlife and ecosystems is "off the charts." Linking exposure to specific diseases can be difficult to prove scientifically -- it has not been definitely proven that exposure to toxic fly ash caused the sicknesses in Meigs County.
Despite these findings, the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed coal ash a "non-hazardous waste" since 1988, a classification that allows fly ash to be dumped into ponds with no protective liner and re-used as pavement, building materials, fertilizer, potting soil and even toothpaste.
In October of 2009, the EPA finally re-evaluated the dangers of toxic coal ash and proposed new rules to regulate coal waste disposal, but the proposed regulations have been stalled for five months at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, headed by Cass Sunstein. During their deliberations over the past few months, Sunstein's staff has met with representatives of the coal and fly ash industries approximately 35 times, but has only met with a handful of citizens personally affected by coal ash. According to a press release issued by Ohio Citizen Action last week, Sunstein has not made any public trips to see the real-life effects of coal ash on some of America's poorest communities.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters in February that she hoped her agency would unveil the proposal by April. But, she said, "I can't absolutely lock it in." Sunstein's office did not return requests for comment.
Coal ash waste is being piled onto Meigs County from every part of the coal cycle: the mining, the power plants and the dumps. But the area has received very little attention from the EPA or decision-makers in the White House, environmentalists say. "Everything that could affect you with that hazardous waste is right on top of us," Young said. "Nobody's ever come through here and taken samples of our ponds and streams and pastures to see what's accumulated. They're continuing to dump more and more of this on us, and they're not even regulating what is currently making us sick."
Not everyone in Meigs County feels the way Young does about the plants--many people welcome them for their potential to bring more jobs to a county with a staggering 17.7 percent unemployment rate. In August 2008, during a public hearing related to a new coal-burning power plant and landfill being proposed for Meigs County, Jim Phillips of Athens News reported: "Most people who attended the hearing favored the project as a desperately needed source of jobs - a fact brought out when Meigs County Commissioner Mick Davenport asked all supporters in the room to stand, and most people promptly got to their feet." Davenport did not return several calls for comment.
(The proposed plant never came, according to an Ohio Citizen Action press release.)
Young thinks electric companies target poor, rural towns because they know the people are desperate for jobs. "They consider us to be the most worthless, powerless population they could find," Young said. "That's why they set up here."
Guy Rose, a farmer in Meigs County, Ohio, said he tried but failed to get a job at one of the four power plants in the area. Having lived on a large piece of farmland in the area for his entire life, Rose said he has lost a number of cattle to cancer, which he says is a very unusual way for cattle to die. He has also had a few health concerns of his own.
"It sure is getting tough to breathe around here," Rose said. "I've had this cough for about three or four years now, but I've never been to doctor. The insurance is so darn high I can't afford it."
Environmental advocacy organizations share Young's concern that the coal industry targets America's poorest and most politically powerless communities as sites for their plants and waste dumps.
"Many studies have shown that toxic waste disposal in the U.S. places a disproportionate burden on poor communities and communities of color," said Lisa Evans, Senior Administrative Counsel for Earthjustice. "Clearly, the facts that these communities have less political power and may already be suffering from environmental and economic blight are factors that make their communities more likely targets for coal ash disposal. For off-site disposal facilities, like the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, Alabama, or the coal ash dump in Gambrills, Maryland, I believe this is particularly true."
After a major coal spill in Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was charged with the responsibility of cleaning up the toxic coal ash and moving it to a landfill that could accept the waste. A spokesperson for the TVA said they made the decision to dump the waste into the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, Alabama, a poor, predominantly African-American town, "based on cost, being able to move the material by rail, and the ability of the landfill to accept the waste." She added that the decision was a positive one for Perry County because it would "supply additional jobs to the community," which has long suffered from high unemployment rates.
When Perry County won the contract for the coal ash disposal, Commissioner Albert Turner, Jr., son of the prominent civil rights leader, testified before Congress: "The contract between TVA and the Arrowhead Landfill has provided the county with an economic boost, unseen since the state of Texas struck oil.... In plain words, we have transformed one of the poorest counties per capita in Alabama into one of the wealthiest counties in Alabama."
Turner added, "Now, more than 96% of the residents of Perry County will have clean, fresh drinking water," and repeatedly called the landfill "environmentally safe" throughout his testimony.
But since TVA began moving the coal ash to Perry County in July of 2009, the unemployment rate has actually increased from 19.3 percent to 19.6 percent, according to Department of Labor statistics. And the town's groundwater has consistently tested high for arsenic and other health-threatening toxins. John Wathen, an environmental investigator and clean water advocate for Perry County, says the toxic ash is being very sloppily handled at its new site.
"Literally within 100 feet of people's homes, they're dumping coal ash on the ground, allowing it to blow around," Wathen said. "In Kingston, where the disaster occurred, they're taking meticulous care to make sure none of that stuff becomes airborne on the transfer to Perry. Then they dump it on the ground here, the plastic bags are all over the place, the train cars that are unloaded have to be washed out before they get back to Kingston. So they wash the ash out into a ditch that leads directly into a creek. It's criminal."
Wathen said that anyone who claims that coal waste is non-hazardous hasn't had to stand near it. "I'm a healthy man and I literally break down and throw up every time I'm exposed to it," he said. "And these people are expected to live in it. The federal government, community officials and TVA clearly conspired to take advantage of them."
Dora Williams, who lives with her grandson about 200 feet from the landfill, agrees.
"It's miserable," said Williams, 62. "It affects everything around here -- fruit, trees, cars, trucks, furniture... You can't open your windows. I had a garden; I ain't got one now. The smell, it makes you real weak and sick. When it starts smelling real strong, sometimes I get up at five in the morning and just leave until it lightens up a bit."
Williams says her grandson, who is 26, was unable to get a job at the landfill. "We went to the town meeting, they tell us a bunch of lies, talking about jobs and whatnot. But my grandson went over there and they didn't give him one. They give who they want a job, that's what it looks like."
Some Perry County residents feel like they've been misrepresented by their elected officials, who lobbied for the waste to come to the Arrowhead Landfill because of the lucrative deal involved. Ruby Holmes, 80, says the town members have yet to see any of the money or jobs they were promised, and that none of their opinions were taken into consideration when the decision was made.
"I know we need somewhere to put our garbage, but I didn't thought they would put it this close in front of my door," she said. "We wasn't treated fair. We elect our commissioners to look out for the welfare of our community, and they took things in their own hands. We didn't know anything about this landfill coming in here until it was a done deal, and that's what make me very, very angry. When I talk about it, it upsets me and it run my blood pressure up."
Travis Vaughn, a reporter for the Perry County Herald who's been covering the coal ash situation since July, called Commissioner Turner's comments before Congress "asinine and ridiculous," and reiterated that Perry County was being taken advantage of by the government and the coal industry.
"We're politically insignificant, but more than that, our leaders are so eager to get their hands on money that they don't give a damn about what the people want," Vaughn said.
"They promise us all these benefits, and then nothing happens. They don't listen to us. They won't even show us any records. Two of our commissioners were elected based on their opposition to the landfill, and now they're two of the biggest cheerleaders for the stuff. It's the overall culture of corruption that breeds distress."
From the local level to the national level, many poor communities that are polluted with coal ash waste are concerned that they have very little political representation, and that Cass Sunstein's upcoming decision on the new EPA proposals will be influenced by coal industry lobbyists and representatives.
The coal industry has taken the position that the White House Office of Management and Budget should reject the EPA's proposals and continue to regulate coal ash as "non-hazardous" on the grounds that a "hazardous" classification would limit the beneficial uses of coal ash.
"We don't believe it's necessary to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, and that would cause a lot of issue with the fact that coal ash is being used for beneficial purposes, such as the construction of roads and bridges," said Tammy Ridout, a spokesperson for American Electric Power (AEP), which owns two major power plants near Meigs County. "It's used for mine reclamation, it's used in a lot of different applications that allow that ash not to be put in a landfill. So the benefits can outweigh the costs."
But AEP is certainly not unaware of the health risk posed by its plants, as it asked many residents living near its power plants to sign medical waivers.
"People were getting nose bleeds, headaches, acid burns on their faces from the emissions," Elisa Young told HuffPost. "So AEP said they hadn't done anything wrong, but they offered them three times their property value to leave and made people sign medical waivers saying they'd never be allowed to sue for medical problems."
AEP directed questions about health risks and coal ash toxicity to Jim Roewer, a registered lobbyist and executive director of the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, a trade organization for the coal industry. Roewer said: "The metals that are in coal, some of them are captured in the ash when it's burned. The question of toxicity is one that relates to exposure to the ash. I don't know what kinds of cancers these people have had, and I'm not familiar with incidences of public health damages that have been attributed with exposure to coal ash. But hazardous waste regulations would affect a variety of stakeholders and their ability to use coal ash in beneficial ways."
Roewer has met with the White House Office of Management and Budget twice to discuss the ways that coal ash should be regulated, but he says that allegations that coal industry representatives have had more of an opportunity to influence the EPA and White House decisions than the people being affected by the coal ash are "bizarre."
It is not clear exactly what the new proposed regulations include or whether they are likely to pass, as Cass Sunstein and the White House have remained silent on the issue. The EPA would only discuss the proposal in general terms, releasing a statement that says: "Administrator Jackson is committed to ensuring the protection of public health and the environment regarding coal ash. This rule continues to be under review and we expect to issue a proposed rule in the near future."

The EPA has not yet taken up Elisa Young and Ohio Citizen Action on their invitation to visit Meigs County.

From Huffington Post...
Laura Bassett - 03/24/2010 09:39 AM


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Foul Home, Alabama

March 2010  businessalabama  /  17

Fifteen months after the spill,
Alabama is paying the environmental price of cleaning
up TVA’s monumental mess in Kingston, Tenn. last year.
No matter the revenue stream flowing to Perry County
government, the outfall is choking Perry County residents
and continuing downstream to Mobile Bay.  
By Glynn Wilson • Photos by John L. Wathen

Ruby Holmes has lived all of her 80
years in the same house in Perry
County, in Alabama’s Black Belt
region. When a landfill was proposed on
land across the street from her house in
2004, she was one of a group of residents
who opposed the permit. But after the
county commission supported the dump
and a local lawsuit failed to stop it, she
accepted the inevitable.
The inevitable, she thought, meant
living next to a solid waste landfill — a
garbage dump. But Holmes had no idea
how far beyond the inevitable things
would go.
A retaining wall failed on the
Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal fired
power plant in Kingston, Tenn. three
days before Christmas in 2008, and the
spill of impounded coal ash created one
of the worst environmental disasters in
U.S. history. Cleanup of the sludge in the
Emory River in Tennessee raised the next
question: Where to dump it? And the
landfill next door to Holmes became a
quick answer to the big problem.
Within four months, the TVA received
approval to ship the coal sludge 300 miles
south — as the buzzard flies — to the
Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County.
All her life, Holmes says, she has grown
a garden in the dark, rich soil that gave
the Black Belt its name. But after the coal
waste started arriving next door — about
85 rail car loads a day — and after watching
the buzzards from the landfill defecating
in her yard, she says she’s stopped eating
vegetables from her garden. She also has
noticed a bad smell in her well water, “an
old smell like it has been sitting there for a
long time,” she says. “This odor wakes me
up at night. It smells like some kind of gas.
It gets all through my house and smells like
rotten eggs. I’m very concerned about my
health. I’m breathing this stuff. It’s going
into my lungs.”

Holmes used to enjoy a cup of coffee on
the front porch in the morning. Now, she
says, it is

“not much of a life at all. Nobody

Fifteen months after the spill, residents
of the relatively affluent area near the
disaster are hiring lawyers and suing the
TVA, and the media chronicles their
complaints, at least in Tennessee.
Down in Alabama it’s a different story.
No story, actually, as far as the media is
concerned. And the only refuge for the
residents is to stay holed up in their homes.
In the winter, they run their air conditioners
to filter the air. They feel walled off from
both the media and their own elected
officials. County commissioners have taken
refuge in the $3.5 million in annual tipping
“I sleep well at night knowing we’ve
got coal ash in the ground and cash in the
bank,” County Commission Chairman
Albert Turner Jr. told the Knoxville News.
U.S. Rep. Artur Davis says he
sympathizes with both the revenue-starved
local officials and the coal industry.
“I am more than sympathetic that the
storage of industrial waste is a job source
in high unemployment counties like Perry
and that the county will benefit from tax revenues generated by this storage,” Davis
says. “I am also mindful that the storage
violates no current state or federal law,
and that a reclassification of coal ash as
hazardous could pose significant burdens
on coal-reliant industries.”
Current Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) policy for enforcing the
Clean Air Act specifically excludes from
the category of hazardous waste the fly ash
of coal-fired power plants.
Critics of the EPA policy say coal
ash contains high levels of toxic waste,
including radioactive and carcinogenic
compounds, such as arsenic, chromium,
lead, mercury, thorium and uranium. They
claim the cancer risk to the elderly and
children who drink water contaminated
with arsenic from coal combustion
waste is 900 times higher than EPA’s
recommended level of risk.
Those were among the stipulations
in a lawsuit environmental defense
attorney David Ludder planned to file in
December. The complaint called on the
EPA and the Alabama Department of
Environmental Management to reclassify
coal ash as toxic, requiring disposal in a
hazardous waste landfill.
Just days before a mandatory 60-day
notice was up on the filing of Ludder’s
suit, owners of the Arrowhead Landfill
filed for bankruptcy protection in federal
court in Mobile. The bankruptcy filing
automatically stays or prevents any new
lawsuits from being filed against the
company, Ludder says. Attorneys for the
landfill owners, Perry Uniontown Ventures
I, claim in their bankruptcy filing that
the landfill operator has failed to make
payments or to provide an accounting
of the funds. The operator, Phillips &
Jordan Inc., a Tennessee company with
a long history of working for the TVA,
says revenues have failed to cover costs.
Meanwhile, owners and operators say the
landfill operations will go on.
Even if the waste is not classified as
hazardous, landfills that accept the waste
must still manage the liquid waste in a
responsible manner, which is not being
done, says John Wathen, an environmental
activist in Tuscaloosa, who is one of
the few who have taken up the cause of
the Perry County residents around the
Arrowhead Landfill.
Wathen took the lead in December
publicizing contamination of local sewer
systems resulting from the Arrowhead
coal ash impoundment. That problem
stems from the nature of the spill material
when it reaches Arrowhead — a sludge
that is as much as 30 percent water when
it is shipped in plastic-lined train cars.
The liquid state keeps debris from
becoming airborne on its train ride, but
after arrival and separation, the left over
leachate has to be disposed of also. Glynn
Wilson, in the alternative independent
news website, The Locust Fork News-
Journal, broke the story that leachate
Ruby Holmes, a Perry County resident who lives
close to the Arrowhead Landfill says, “I’m very
concerned about my health. I’m breathing this
stuff. It’s going into my lungs.”
was being dumped into a sewer system
lagoon in the city of Marion, Perry
County’s county seat — a sewer system
that already was overrun with waste from
a local cheese factory. Wathen published
his account in December in his blog
The lagoon disposal was halted and
landfill company managers and county
officials say they have been negotiating
deals for other sewer systems in nearby
communities. But few takers have stepped
forward, with the exception of a sewer
system in Demopolis.
Jackie Fike, who lives near the treatment
plant and lagoon in Marion where some
of the wastewater from the landfill was
dumped, says his wife is now forced to stay
inside on oxygen most of the time.
“We hardly have a bird now,” Fike says.
“This stuff is about to kill a lot of fish, a lot
of people.”
Attorney Ludder says, “The
unfortunate thing all around is that the
government that was supposed to protect
the people, once again, is not doing it. And
the people have to face the consequences.”
Wathan says the Kingston coal ash “has
now come into contact with eight river
systems.” In Tennessee, waste went into the
Emory, Clinch and Tennessee rivers, which
run into the Mississippi. When the ash is
impounded in the Arrowhead Landfill,
waste can drain to the Alabama River
then to the Tombigbee River. The leachate
created by the wet ash was trucked to
Marion, Ala. where it was discharged into
Rice Creek and other streams that flow
into the Cahaba River. Now, since some of
the liquid is being trucked to Demopolis,
Wathen says, it too ends up discharged
into the Tombigbee River, which ends up
flowing into the Mobile River.
“Just like the cancer it carries with
it,” Wathen says, “this ash has impacted
people in places who have never heard
of Kingston, Tennessee, destroying their
quality of life and peace of mind.”
This is an opinion piece by Glynn Wilson,
who is a freelance writer, editor and publisher
of the alternative independent news website,
Locust Fork News-Journal, located on the
Web at LocustFork.Net. The photographs were
provided by John L. Wathen of Hurricane

Monday, March 15, 2010

Complaint cites health threats at Alabama dump taking TVA's spilled coal ash

Complaint cites health threats at Alabama dump taking TVA's spilled coal ash

pca_arsenic_ditch.jpgAn Alabama creekkeeper has filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency citing health threats including runoff containing alarmingly high arsenic levels at a bankrupt landfill that's taking hundreds of millions of gallons of coal ash spilled from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston coal plant.


The Arrowhead Landfill -- owned by Perry County Associates and managed by Phill-Con Services and Phillips & Jordan -- is near Uniontown, Ala., a community in rural Perry County where 88% of residents are African-American and almost half live in poverty. The landfill sits only 100 feet from some people's front porches.

"Why is Perry County being treated like this?" asks Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen, who wants the ash shipments stopped until the problems are fixed. "Are the people in Perry County any less valuable than the people of Kingston, Tenn.?"

Last July, the EPA approved TVA's plan to ship by train to the Perry County dump more than half of the 1 billion gallons of coal ash that spilled from TVA's Kingston plant in eastern Tennessee's Roane County in December 2008. EPA assured the public that the Alabama landfill "complies with all technical requirements specified by federal and state regulations," but what Wathen has documented calls that into question.

After months of investigating local residents' complaints of unusual runoff and sickening smells and getting no help from state or EPA regional regulators, Wathen sent a complaint to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson yesterday documenting serious environmental health threats at the 976-acre facility:

* Dangerously high arsenic levels have been found in what's described as "stinking gray/tannish waste" being pumped nightly pumping from the landfill. Tests of the leachate collected by Wathen from one of the on-site pumps indicated the presence of arsenic -- a contaminant characteristic of coal ash and a known carcinogen -- at 0.840mg/L. That's more than 80 times the U.S. safe drinking water standard of 0.01 mg/L and far higher than what's considered safe for aquatic life. Wathen took his findings to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, but ADEM reportedly declined to investigate after the landfill manager denied the pumping claims. "No tests, no samples, no interviews of employees or nearby residents [affected]," says Wathen's complaint, "just a simple denial by the manager was good enough to refute hundreds of photos, certified lab results, [anecdotal] stories from the community, or first hand eye witness account[s] by me."

* The arsenic-tainted waste runs in the landfill's roadside ditches at levels that have exceeded safe drinking water limits. "While people do not drink from the ditch, it leads through private land where farm animals do drink from the surface water," Wathen says. The ditches (photo above) also drain into local streams. ADEM has attributed the material in the ditches to the chalky local soils used to build the haul road, but Wathen says the agency has failed to produce any evidence to back up that claim. Perry County is not among the areas of the U.S. where dramatically elevated levels of arsenic have been found to occur naturally in groundwater due to high levels in soils.

pca_ash_mound.jpg* An excessive amount of wet material is being dumped into the landfill, threatening the protective liner. The mixture of spilled coal ash and and other hazardous waste being dumped into the landfill is now piled about 60 feet high in places, with the wet conditions adding to the crushing weight. "The liquid levels actually stand well above the top of the liner and the high water levels seem to be consistent regardless of rain," Wathen writes. "It is my understanding the landfill allows a maximum permissible liquid level of only 18 inches above the bottom of the liner. There looks to be at least 20 feet of water standing in existing cells." Compounding the problem, the company that had been taking waste liquids from the landfill announced earlier this month that it would no longer accept the shipments, which it had planned to treat before sending through the Mobile public sewer system. Wathen had counted as many as 20 tanker trucks -- each carrying as much as 9,000 gallons of leachate -- leaving the site each day.

pca_dumptruck.jpg* Contaminated coal ash is falling from overloaded, uncovered trucks and spilling along the road. "This means that the haul road itself is now contaminated and all storm water leaving the haul road should be treated as potentially toxic," writes Walthen. Untreated runoff from the road now flows into nearby Tayloe Creek -- and when the rain subsides and the weather dries out, the concern is that all the mud will turn into airborne dust.

* When the train cars hauling coal ash to the landfill are washed off, the runoff is allowed to flow into Tayloe Creek's drainage basin. While the landfill operator erected silt fences at the site recently, they were standing under several feet of sludge during Wathen's two inspections earlier this month. And at the point where the site drains into the creek, the operator has constructed a dam of riprap, essentially using the waterway as a treatment facility -- something that Wathen notes is prohibited by both EPA and Army Corps of Engineers regulations.

"According to the agreement with EPA and TVA, no ash can be shipped to any landfill that does not meet compliance standards," Wathen writes in the complaint. "We therefore respectfully request that EPA order a complete stopping of disaster ash to Perry County until this landfill is in complete compliance as certified by EPA national headquarters. EPA Region 4 and ADEM have failed us."

In the meantime, Florida attorney David Ludder has announced that he plans to sue the landfill's operators on behalf of 155 local residents over the foul smell coming from the facility. He had previously announced plans to sue the facility's owners, but they filed for bankruptcy last month -- a move that prevents any new lawsuits from being filed against them until the bankruptcy is settled.

(All photos by Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen. To see more of his photos, including aerial shots of the landfill operation provided courtesy of SouthWings, click here.)

In Aftermath of Ash Spill, a New Round of Challenges

In Aftermath of Ash Spill, a New Round of Challenges
Published: March 5, 2010

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — More than a year after a Tennessee coal ash spill created one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in United States history, the problem is seeping into several other states.

Wade Payne/Associated Press
Sediment can be seen in the Emory River in Tennessee as machines pump it into holding ponds.

Wade Payne/Associated Press
Coal ash sediment being loaded into plastic-lined rail cars in Kingston, Tenn., as part of the cleanup of a spill from 2008.
It began on Dec. 22, 2008, when a retaining pond burst at a coal-burning Tennessee Valley Authority power plant, spilling 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash across 300 acres into the Emory River and an affluent shoreline community near Knoxville. It was enough ash to cover a square mile five feet deep.

While the T.V.A.’s cleanup has removed much of the ash from the river, the arsenic- and mercury-laced muck or its watery discharge has been moving by rail and truck through three states to at least six sites. Some of it may end up as far away as Louisiana.

At stops along the route, new environmental concerns are popping up. The muck is laden with heavy metals linked to cancer, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency is considering declaring coal ash hazardous.

“I’m really concerned about my health,” said James Gibbs, 53, a retiree who lives near a west-central Alabama landfill that is taking the ash. “I want to plant a garden. I’m concerned about it getting in the soil.”

After the spill, the T.V.A. started sending as many as 17,000 rail car loads of ash almost 350 miles south to the landfill in Uniontown, Ala. At least 160 rail shipments have gone out, said Barbara Martocci, a spokeswoman for the T.V.A.

Since the environmental agency approved that plan, heavy rain has forced the Uniontown landfill to deal with up to 100,000 gallons of tainted water a day.

Landfill operators first sent the water to wastewater treatment plants — a common way landfills deal with excess liquid — in two nearby Alabama cities, Marion and Demopolis.

In January, after what the environmental agency said were unrelated problems with ammonia in Marion, the landfill started using a commercial wastewater treatment plant in Mobile, Ala., 500 miles from the original spill.

A month ago, however, after a public outcry about discharging the treated water into Mobile Bay, that company refused to take more of the landfill water.

A private treatment facility in Cartersville, Ga., also briefly took some of the liquid in February, although Georgia environmental officials said Friday that the company, Hi-Tech Water Treatment Services, did not have a required state permit.

The facility’s manager, Amalia Cox, said the company had stopped accepting wastewater from the Alabama landfill after becoming “concerned about payments and the publicity.”

In a landfill management plan presented to Alabama environmental officials, tanker trucks could haul the dirty water to a nonhazardous waste disposal site in Louisiana and to a public wastewater plant in Mississippi. The plan also says there are “negotiations under way” on taking it to an unspecified facility in Georgia.

Environmental regulators and officials at the T.V.A. and the companies hired to take the ash declined to discuss the disposal problems.

T.V.A.’s coal ash cleanup manager, Steve McCracken, and Ms. Martocci, the spokeswoman, referred disposal questions to a Knoxville contractor, Phillips & Jordan. So did the owners of the 977-acre landfill, Perry-Uniontown Ventures and Perry County Associates.

Phillips & Jordan, which operates the Alabama landfill with its Phill-Con Services subsidiary, has a $95 million disposal contract with the T.V.A.

In a letter to Alabama environmental officials, the landfill operators said they were trying to reduce the excess wastewater, partly by using lime and soil to solidify it.

Federal and state environmental regulators have been involved only minimally with disposal of the landfill wastewater.

Even though coal ash contains toxic materials, it is not considered hazardous waste.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which is paid $1 for each ton of the coal ash, monitors the landfill and has found no rules violations involving its excess water, said Scott Hughes, a department spokesman.

Mr. Hughes said there were no restrictions on where the landfill sent the drained water, even to other states, as long as recipients had proper permits to treat it.

In Demopolis, about 20 miles from Uniontown, officials failed to renew their wastewater treatment operating permit, but the wastewater plant has continued receiving the landfill’s drained fluids while operating under a special state order.

Mr. Hughes said Thursday that new orders proposed additional monitoring of the wastewater at the landfill and allowed Demopolis to accept it. If arsenic and other pollutant concentration levels meet standards, he said, there is no limit to how much wastewater Demopolis can take.

Demopolis is the only treatment plant in Alabama taking the landfill wastewater, Mr. Hughes said.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Herald Flies Over the Landfill with Wathen, Southwings, and CNN

by G. Travis Vaughn
Since last summer, many of us have learned more about landfills than we ever wanted to know. Our first experience with the Arrowhead Landfill was in July. John Allan Clark and I were given a tour by Eddie Dorsett of Phill-Con in the days before the decision was finalized to bring millions of tons of coal ash to Perry County. Since then, allegations of environmental misconduct and the bankruptcy of the landfill owners have further complicated this sordid tale.

My most recent visit would be a much different experience. John Wathen, a Tuscaloosa-based environmental activist and the “Creekkeeper” of Hurricane Creek, invited me along for a flight over the landfill. He had arranged the flight especially for Stephanie Smith, a medical producer for CNN, who often works with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. CNN is producing a new series with the working title of “Toxic Towns,” and Uniontown and Marion have the dubious distinction of being the first subjects.
We were scheduled to fly out sometime around 8:30 Sunday morning. The pilot called to tell us the weather was not cooperating; he was waiting for the cloud cover over Perry County to improve. That gave Wathen, Smith, and I time to drive on down to the landfill to do some other investigating.
  When we arrived at the landfill, we parked at one of the neighboring houses. Wathen had previously talked to the lady who lives there, who agreed to let him park there anytime. Smith set up her camera equipment and began filming what Wathen and I were doing and discussing. 
  As soon as we got out of the car, the odor and the noise hit us. The smell, ammonia-like, came and went with the direction of the wind, but the noise was ever-present. Earth-moving vehicles and large dump trucks were busily transporting coal ash and broken “burrito wraps” to the top of the coal ash heaps. One pile was easily 50 feet tall with burrito wraps and other garbage intermingled with the ash. We saw one of the trucks stop near the top. It was evidently stuck in the muck since a bulldozer came behind it and gave it a nudge. While we were there, we also saw approximately three leachate trucks come and go.


The ditches outside the landfill were full of water, which was not surprising since last week’s rainfall amounts neared four inches. We also observed water flowing from the landfill site, down a bank, and into the ditch along the road. Wathen took several water samples from the ditches outside the landfill property. He said he had previously taken samples from the same locations, and those test results indicated elevated levels of arsenic.
 We then moved to a different location on County Road 1. Smith interviewed Wathen with the mountain of coal ash behind him. Security guards from the landfill drove by a couple of times and once stopped in the middle of the road, appearing to take pictures of us. Even though we made sure to stay in the county right-of-way at all times, security seemed very interested in what we were doing.

 We drove back to Vaiden Field. Our pilot, Dick McGlaughlin, from SouthWings, was waiting on us. The cloud cover had risen enough to allow us to safely make the flight and to be able to photograph the landfill. We took off from Vaiden and made the quick flight to the landfill site. The scope of the project is amazing from the air. As the photographs we took reveal, the recent rains have made parts of the landfill resemble ponds. 

Workers were continuously bringing truckloads of ash from the rail spur up to the landfill cells and then pushing the ash into place and compacting it. Meanwhile, train cars sat on the tracks while workers hosed them out.   We saw another group of leachate trucks onsite at the time, bringing the total of leachate trucks we observed to around six. We made several circles around the landfill as we took pictures and video. Wathen said he took over a thousand pictures while we were in the air, and Smith videoed the entire flight. After about 45 minutes in the air, we returned to Vaiden.

The landfill has grown quite a bit since July. Hundreds of train cars loaded with coal ash come almost every day, and the site is fast becoming one of the tallest locations in southern Perry County. Meanwhile, the questions about the safety and ethics of the project also seem to grow daily as more and more environmentalists and journalists try to uncover the truth in our county.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

SouthWings report on Perry County Fly-over

SouthWings reports on Perry County

Featured Issue: Coal Ash 

photo: Glynn Wilson

 SouthWings has conducted six flights so far in 2010 on the issue of coal ash disposal in Perry Couny, AL. The ash originated from the TVA Kingston, TN environmental disaster in December 2008. At that time, over a billion gallons of coal ash stored near the TVA powerplant flooded into the local community after the earthen dam holding the material failed.

In 2009 a decision was made to ship the coal ash waste to Perry County, AL for disposal. John Wathen of the Friends of Hurricane Creek has been keeping a watchful eye on the impacts of this decision and diligently keeping the public informed about what is happening, particularly the environmental justice issues associated with this matter. The CBS coverage above was from his SouthWings flight on February 3. He has also flown with CNN. On March 1 he flew with a contingency from the Alabama Rivers Alliance that resulted in this story in the Locust Fork News Journal. To see pictures from John Wathen's coal ash flights, click on the links below:

Alabama Rivers Alliance Flights, 3.1.10
CNN Flight, 2.7.10
CBS Flight, 2.3.10

Flight Participants from the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Photo: Will Callaway.

Flight Participants from the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Photo: Will Callaway

Coal ash is created as a byproduct from burning coal to create electricity. The catastrophe in Kingston, TN has created unanswered questions about the safety of the material. Much attention has been brought to the EPA looking for guidance on the proper disposal of the waste. That guidiance was promised last year but has not yet been released.

On February 8, SouthWings flew with world-renowned photographer, J. Henry Fair to photograph coal ash ponds in North Carolina, where some of them are considered high hazard by the EPA primarily due to proximity to communities. View his pictures here.

Please educate yourself about this issue and participate in the public process to establish safe guidelines for the regulation and disposal of coal ash waste. Please join us in helping to create a sustainable future by considering where your electricity comes from, how you use it and if you can reduce your consumption.

SouthWings, Inc.
35 Haywood Street, Suite 201, Asheville, NC 28801
voice: 828.225.5949 · fax: 828.225.7562