• Memphis coal-fired power plant one of 10 worst contamination sites in U.S., new report says

    By: Kody Leibowitz

    Updated:

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Two new reports shed light on the now-closed TVA Allen Fossil Plant.

    The first report, released by the Tennessee Valley Authority, acknowledges the lack of a clay barrier near its coal ash site. 

    The second report, released Monday from an environmental group, named the inactive plant one of the 10 worst contamination sites in the U.S.

    Environmental Integrity Project report

    The Allen Fossil Plant is now a defunct coal-fired power plant sitting near the Mississippi River. 

    The Environmental Integrity Project commissioned a study of coal ash pollution across the country. It named Allen as one of its worst offenders. 

    “Groundwater data show extremely high levels of arsenic in the shallow aquifer beneath the East Ash Disposal Aquifer, particularly ALF-203,” the study reads, “where the average arsenic concentration is 350 times higher than the MCL.”

    The East Ash Disposal Area, which is on site, contains 2.3 million cubic yards of coal ash, per EIP’s study, which cites an Oct. 2016 TVA report for its data determination. 

    On TVA’s plans to close the ash pond in place, EIP wrote that “this would do nothing to restore groundwater quality and will instead guarantee chronic pollution problems for generations.”

    TVA report and dispute

    The Tennessee Valley Authority released its own report on Friday.

    The release of the report is federally mandated as part of Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency regulations known as the CCR Rule – or coal combustion residuals – for disposal of coal ash.

    TVA acknowledged a breach at the coal ash site with no protective clay barrier found between the shallow aquifer and Memphis Sands Aquifer.

    Memphis Sands is where Memphis gets its drinking water. 

    “Based on deep exploratory drilling in the vicinity of ALF-202, the upper Claiborne confining unit is absent, and the Alluvial aquifer directly overlies the Memphis Sand,” the report reads.

    Scott Brooks, a spokesperson for TVA, said the high-level arsenic is not affecting Memphis Sands aquifer or drinking water.

    “The arsenic is not moving to any great extent. We know where it is and we’re confident we can go in with extraction wells and remove it,” said Brooks.

    Brooks disputed portions of the EIP report on Monday.

    Brooks did not dispute numbers used from EIP; those are TVA’s own numbers from its 2018 report. 

    However, the authority did dispute the findings from EIP stating the arsenic levels came from coal ash. 

    Brooks said the levels are much higher than what is normally found in coal ash. 

    “Rather than worry about what caused it, we determined we would figure out how to fix it,” said Brooks. 


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    TVA, Brooks said, has ongoing public processes at the moment to determine what to do with the coal ash site: either cap and close or move it. 

    With public hearings ongoing, Brooks said it could take a few years. Again, TVA said there is no effect at this time to drinking water. 

    Researchers from the University of Memphis agreed.

    “Everything was below the maximum contaminate levels in the shallow and the Memphis, so there weren’t any water quality issues on that property,” said Dr. Scot Schoefernacker, associate director of water for University of Memphis’ Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research.

    City of Memphis, congressman respond to report 

    The center, known as CAESAR for short, has an ongoing contract with the City of Memphis and MLGW to study aquifer vulnerabilities. 

    The contract: $1 million annually for the next five years, according to Schoefernacker. 

    In a statement, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland mentioned the contract, while acknowledging Monday’s report:

    “As mayor, I’m committed to ensuring safe drinking water for Memphians for years to come. To get a complete understanding of the vulnerabilities of our aquifer required much more funding that the University of Memphis had been receiving on an annual basis.  

    “The City of Memphis along with then MLGW president Jerry Collins committed to allocating $1M annually from MLGW water revenues to the University of Memphis (CAESAR) specifically for the study of aquifer vulnerabilities. This study is imperative to inform water policies going forward.” 

    Strickland, through a City of Memphis spokesperson, didn’t respond to a request from FOX13 for an on-camera interview. 

    But the attention of the two reports sparked interested on the national stage, too. 

    Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) sent a letter to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to conduct a hearing on the impact of coal plants and coal ash dumps on groundwater quality.

    “I write to ask that the [Committee] convene a hearing to examine the impact and effects of all coal plants and coal ash dumps on groundwater quality, human health and aquatic life,” the congressman wrote, in part.

    Cohen added that if the report’s analysis is true, “this is obviously is alarming.”

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