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TVA Moves Closer to Coal Ash Clean-up in Memphis


A year after the Tennessee Valley Authority shut down its coal-burning power plant in Memphis, about 3 million cubic yards of poisonous coal ash, laced with arsenic and lead, still remain in two ponds on the property. 

At a public forum on Tuesday, the TVA said it was moving closer to finalizing a plan to permanently remove the toxic waste from the shuttered Allen Fossil Plant.  

TVA is in the process of drying out the ash in the ponds so it can be removed, but the utility is still exploring where the waste might be stored and how it will be transported.

“We want to look at locations that wouldn’t necessarily impact—or at least have the least impact —on neighborhoods if [we] are going to truck [it],” says TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks.

Brooks says rail or barge transport alternatives are also being considered to move the ash, either to a landfill or a facility that could repurpose it for materials such as concrete, options that are outlined in the utility's federally-mandated environmental impact statement

“Any site that we consider, we would want guarantees from them that they will do what’s necessary to protect the public,” Brooks says.  

In recent years, TVA has confirmed that groundwater beneath the plant is tainted with arsenic 300 times the legal limit.

Credit WKNO-FM
Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis.

Earlier this year, TVA reported that the polluted groundwater under the property was not a threat to the city’s drinking water, though environmentalists note that nearby holes in the clay layer covering the deeper drinking water aquifer make it vulnerable to future contamination.  

TVA acknowledges a gap in the clay layer near the plant.  

A plan to decontaminate the arsenic-laden groundwater is expected to begin early next year.

“We know exactly where [the contamination] is. We know it’s not moving downward,” Brooks says. “We know it’s not moving anywhere near that fault that we’ve identified.”

TVA is seeking public comment on its environmental impact statement through November 25.

Linda Street, a Walker Home neighborhood resident, says she wants locals to be involved in the cleanup process.

“I was told they were going to use union employees to tear it down,” she says. “So I’m going to make sure I’m on top of that.”

Others living near the plant want guarantees that public health will not be compromised should TVA elect to truck the coal ash.

“My concern is: Will it get into the air in our neighborhood and cause sickness or illnesses as they transport it to the location in which it would be dumped?” says Sarah Gladney, a Boxtown resident.

Some environmental activists are grateful the clean-up effort is moving forward.

“It’s good to see TVA paying attention to West Tennessee and our city,” says Ward Archer, president of the watchdog group Protect our Aquifer. “They have committed to actually digging it up and moving it to a safe storage site and moving it safely. 

Though he quickly adds, “What’s the phrase? 'Trust, but verify.'” 

Due to an editing error a pervious post provided inaccurate information about the location of the coal ash ponds on the property.