KINGSTON, Tenn. - High levels of arsenic and heavy metals were detected in two East Tennessee rivers near an area where a sludge spill occurred, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Monday.
Last Monday, a wall breached at a retention site at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant in East Tennessee.
The water and ash, a byproduct of a coal-fired power plant, covered 300 acres. It also left some nearby residents homeless.
"It's devastating. It's unbelievable. You just can't imagine," said one local resident.
"We're hearing everything from this is perfectly fine to be around to get as far away as you can from it. So we really don't know what the right answer is there," said resident Tom Vereb.
The EPA didn't detect arsenic in a water intake facility near Kingston, which is about 40 miles west of Knoxville.
But arsenic was detected in the Clinch and Emory rivers.
On Sunday, air quality testing conducted near the plant found particulate levels far below applicable standards, according to the TVA Web site.
"This is not a time where TVA holds its head high," said TVA President/CEO Tom Kilgore told neighbors Sunday. "But we won't hang our head, either, because that won't get the job done."
He tried to answer tough questions from neighbors.
"When's it going to be cleaned up?" asked one resident.
"I can't tell you," Kilgore replied.
The Kingston Fossil Plant sits on the Emory River where some of the sludge spilled.
On Monday, a warning was issued for people who get their water from wells or springs because the federal government found high levels of arsenic in the area.
Crews are trying to make a dent in the massive mess. They are working to clear a road and hopefully make repairs to train tracks washed away by the sludge.
"We've got to get the road opened first in order to get down there and see all that has happened," said Roane County Mayor Mike Farmer.
When the sludge hit the water, it killed thousands of fish. Crews continue to take water and air samples to detect contamination. The Tennessee Valley Authority's inspector general's office will investigate the spill. It is an independent entity from the TVA and it will try to find out why the retention pond wall failed.
Wednesday, June 19 2013 2:24 PM EDT2013-06-19 18:24:42 GMT
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