By: Sharon Franklin

As we look back at the holiday season, it is only a reminder to Mike Dunn of the health issue his wife Sandy encountered, who was a 40-year employee of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  Mike is reminded of the 2008 Christmas Eve when Sandy left their Alcoa, Tennessee home and her family and headed to the Kingston Fossil Plant, where 7.3 million tons of coal ash was spilling from a busted dike.  Sandy knew nothing about coal ash, even though she worked in the safety division of the largest producer of coal ash in the nation.

 

Six years later, Sandy was dead, poisoned, her family says, by coal ash dust that her bosses said was safe.  According to the Dunn family today, more than 30 workers at the clean-up site are now dead, and more than 250 are sick, and many more may be sick.  

 

Coal ash contamination and its affects are also being reported in other areas, such as the one reported by Molly Samuel, a reporter at WABE, an Atlanta, Georgia Public Broadcasting radio station.  Ms. Samuel reported that the toxic coal ash pollutants are leaking into groundwater from 92 percent of Georgia coal-fired power plants, according to an analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice.

 

The report Georgia At a Cross Roads  documents widespread groundwater contamination at Georgia’s coal ash dumpsites   It reports that eleven of the state’s 12 coal-fired power plants are leaking pollution into the state’s underground water supplies, and 10 of these 11 polluting plants are owned by a single company, Georgia Power.  The report outlines the effects of coal ash, and explains the hazardous brew of toxic pollutants such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, radium, selenium and other toxic elements. The toxic elements in coal ash can cause cancer, heart disease, reproductive failure and stroke, and can inflict lasting brain damage on children.  Additionally, the report noted that Georgia Power owns all of the contaminated waste sites that are located near lakes and rivers.  The Environmental Integrity Project attorney Abel Russ, one of the authors of report said “Georgia is at a crossroads with respect to the toxic legacy of coal-burning.”  

 

The report concluded that “We do not know the extent to which the tested groundwater is used for drinking, but regardless of use, these levels represent a significant deterioration of water quality by coal ash.  Releases of these pollutants to the environment are particularly troublesome, because once they leach into groundwater, the harmful pollutants do not go away or degrade over time.”