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Kingston Ash Slide

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated January 16, 2009

What is fly ash?

Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal. It is a gray powder with a consistency similar to flour. It is made up mostly of silica, similar to sand. Though the ash itself is inert, it may also contain trace amounts of other substances that occur naturally in coal, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium. It is used in many building products like cement, mortar, stucco, and grout. It also is used in some potting soils and as a soil conditioner.

Is fly ash dangerous?

Direct skin contact may cause localized irritation and contact should be avoided. Breathing airborne particulates like fly ash over long periods of time can irritate the respiratory system. People with existing lung diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should avoid breathing coal fly ash dust.

Is the water safe?

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) began water quality testing within hours of the event. TDEC reports that all samples received to date show that municipal water supplies meet drinking water standards. TDEC is also testing private groundwater wells, and those results show these water sources meet standards, as well. Each agency does its own sampling, and the analyses are done by certified, independent labs.

Is the air safe?

Air quality is being monitored 24 hours a day at five locations in residential areas near the plant and onsite. Thousands of mobile air-monitoring samples have been collected. Results show that concentrations of air particulates remain below levels set by the National Ambient Air quality standards. TDEC plans to oversee testing by both EPA and TVA and perform tests of it own, to ensure accuracy and consistency.

Is the soil safe?

EPA reports that soil testing continues to confirm that, except for arsenic, concentrations of metals in the escaped ash are well below EPA Region 4 Removal Action Levels (RALs). In most cases, the concentrations are not dramatically different from those found in natural, non-agricultural soils in Tennessee.

Some concentrations of arsenic were above the residential RALs but below the industrial RALs. The concentrations are well below levels found in well-fertilized soils and significantly below the limits to be classified as a hazardous waste.

What else is being done to ensure public health and safety?

The Tennessee Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are planning a brief health assessment of people living in the affected area. Health Department and CDC staff will go door-to-door asking routine health survey questions.

What oversight is planned of cleanup efforts?

The local, state and federal agencies involved in responding to the incident are preparing to transition from the formal unified command phase to ongoing recovery efforts with continued state oversight. This transition marks progress in the initial phases of cleanup, and plans are in place to guide ongoing efforts.

TDEC will continue to have personnel on the scene coordinating state oversight to ensure the cleanup is done effectively.

TDEC is coordinating closely with the Tennessee Department of Health to ensure that public health and safety remain a priority during the cleanup process. Both departments are looking at options for setting up a temporary joint office in the community to oversee TVA’s cleanup.

TDEC will continue to sample air, soil and ash, river water, drinking water intakes and treated drinking water so that any potential areas of concern can be recognized and responded to quickly.

See the current update from TDEC.

How much fly ash was released and where?

Our latest estimate is that about 5.4 million cubic yards of ash escaped, along with about 327 millions of gallons of water. This ash and water spread over nearly 300 acres of land adjacent to the plant. Some flowed into the Emory River, which is a tributary of the Clinch River and Watts Bar Reservoir. And some covered portions of nearby Swan Pond Road, Swan Pond Circle, and the railroad tracks by which coal is supplied to the plant.

How many people are affected?

Three hundred and five claims have been made with TVA’s Outreach Center as of January 15. The damage ranges from debris on lawns to three homes that were rendered uninhabitable because of structural damage. It was very good news that no one was injured.

What is TVA doing to help the people whose homes or property were damaged?

TVA officials have assured the public that TVA will fix the problems caused by the spill. TVA is developing a long-term plan for full recovery and restoration. Short-term actions also are under way:

Immediately after the incident, TVA provided hotel rooms, meals, transportation and other support to ensure residents’ immediate needs were met.

TVA has assigned teams of employees and retirees to provide one point of contact for each of the homeowners in the affected areas to address their concerns and provide support. TVA has provided a special number, (800) 257-2675, for property owners to call if they need an assessment of property damages.

An Outreach Center is open for anyone with questions, concerns, or property claims at 509 North Kentucky Street in Kingston. Call (865) 632-1700 for hours of operation. The Outreach Center received more than one hundred calls and visits during its first two days of operation.

What is TVA doing now to repair the site?

Crews are working around the clock to minimize the movement of ash and to begin clean up. One road still closed to public has been cleared enough for use by construction equipment, and the damaged rail line has been repaired.

To prevent ash material in the water from moving downstream, TVA has built one weir (essentially a small dam) and will build another to let water flow through the area while trapping the ash. Ash that sinks will be dredged and stored onsite.

TVA is vacuuming inert ash residue called cenospheres that is floating on top of the water. Recovered cenospheres are being transported to holding cells located adjacent to the settling pond on the Kingston site.

TVA also is using mulch, grass seed, fertilizer, and dust suppressants to immobilize dry ash on land.

The floating residues and dry ash are both inert but may cause minor irritations such as watery eyes, sneezing or coughing with long-term exposure.

Public access on Swan Pond Road past the Kingston plant and Swan Pond Circle remain closed except for construction as TVA removes material off the roads. Safety is our primary concern and there is no estimate for when the road will reopen for public use.

Because large equipment is being moved into the area for clean-up, the Emory River is closed from mile marker zero through mile marker 4. The Kingston Fossil Plant Boat Ramp and fishing area also have been closed.

Where is Kingston located?

Kingston Fossil Plant is located about 35 miles west of Knoxville, Tennessee, at the junction of the Emory and Clinch Rivers near Kingston, Tennessee. It is one of TVA’s larger fossil plants, generating enough electricity to supply the needs of about 670,000 homes in the Tennessee Valley region. The plant began operation in 1955.

Is the plant still operating?

The plant itself is not affected by the ash release, although coal could not be delivered to the plant while the railroad track was out of service. With the rail lines repaired, plant operations have returned to normal.

What is being done to prevent this from happening elsewhere?

Staff at TVA’s 10 other fossil plants have made visual inspections of the ash retention dikes to note any changes in conditions. TVA will also do an independent, in-depth analysis of root cause and share lessons learned with those in regulatory roles and others in the industry, for everyone’s benefit.

TVA is investigating a leak from the gypsum pond at Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Alabama. The leak, which has stopped, was discovered early Friday, January 9. Some material flowed into an adjacent settling pond, and some overflowed into Widows Creek, although most of the leakage remained in the settling pond. TVA has notified appropriate federal and state authorities and is proceeding with temporary repairs.

Gypsum ponds hold limestone spray from TVA’s scrubbers that clean sulfur dioxide (SO2) from coal-plant emissions. Gypsum is frequently used in drywall, a common construction material.


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