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Sludge Spill Exposes Vulnerability Of Other TVA Plants

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The Tennessee Valley Authority said its plants are safe.

A week after a massive coal ash spill in East Tennessee, the nation's largest government-owned utility is now evaluating all of its plants.

Crews will be in Sumner County Wednesday to see whether the ash pond there is safe.

TVA has seven coal-powered plants in Tennessee including one in Gallatin. 

Sumner County's emergency management director is taking a closer look at the Gallatin Steam Plant. It burns up to 14,000 tons of coal a day. It operates the same way the Kingston plant does.

On the property, there is a large pond collecting waste coal ash sludge. 

"We don't have a plan written specifically for an incident like this," said a Sumner County official.

About 5.4 millions cubic yards of ash was displaced when a retention pond wall breached, according to the TVA Web site. The sludge covered slightly less than 300 acres and left some neighbors homeless.

The failure of the coal ash containment retention wall at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant has brought new attention to ash ponds. 

TVA said the difference between the Kingston pond and the Gallatin pond is that Kingston's was much larger.  It had 60-foot dikes while Gallatin's has 20-foot dikes.

"This really isn't acceptable anymore. We've got to figure out other ways to deal with this kind of waste," said John McFadden, executive director of the Tennessee Environmental Council.

Environmental groups say what happened in Kingston is a wake-up call.  TVA admits none of its ash ponds are lined. And there is little federal regulation about how waste from coal plants is dealt with.

"We've got to question the technology we're using. Admittedly, this is very, very low technology to have a hole in the ground where we're just dumping this material in it," McFadden said.

TVA's coal plant in Humphreys County also has a large ash pond right on the Tennessee River. TVA said it will immediately begin checking ponds at all its plants.  It will start with the Gallatin plant because it's so close to the water supply for much of Middle Tennessee.

TVA does not yet have test results of the sludge from the spill in Kingston. But some surrounding areas have tested high for arsenic and lead. TVA said there's no threat to anyone's health.

Sumner County Emergency Management officials said TVA has been working with them. They expect a meeting next week to learn more about the ash pond at the Gallatin plant.

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