Front Porch Blog

A Cup of Arsenic in the Morning Does a Body…Good?

In what some folks would call the “no-duh” factor, the TVA has found contaminated groundwater near some of their coal fired power plant coal ash sites.

Following the 2008 coal ash disaster at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn., the topic of toxicity in coal ash has raged hotter than a coal-stoked furnace.

According to an article by, the TVA Inspector General has found that contaminants in groundwater near the Gallatin plant in Sumner County (50 miles northwest of Nashville) are at “health-hazard levels.”

Pollutants above drinking water standards near the plant include beryllium, cadmium, nickel, arsenic, selenium and vanadium.

Contamination was also found at a coal-fired power plant in Memphis–a plant conveniently nestled directly above the aquifer that supplies drinking water to the city of Memphis and nearby areas.

Prior to the Kingston disaster–which dumped 1.1 billion gallons of coal fly ash into the Clinch and Emory rivers–coal ash was regarded as harmless to humans, namely because the coal companies claimed it was.

Thanks to independent testing and verification by labs, universities, environmental groups and the U.S. government at the Harriman site, we now know that coal fly ash contains toxic minerals such as arsenic, selenium and other delicious minerals that you wouldn’t want to drink with your morning orange juice.

The EPA’s attempts to treat coal ash as a toxic substance have been repeatedly attacked by the current Congress. A bill to strip the agency’s ability to oversee coal ash passed in the Energy and Commerce Committee, and currently awaits a floor vote.

The only Tennessee representative on the committee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) voted for the bill.

The real question is, would Blackburn be willing to use that water–now that we know what is in it–to brew her morning coffee?

Jamie is an Appalachian native with a deep and unshakeable love of the mountains her family has called home since the mid-1700s. With a background in journalism and communications, she has worked as AV's Senior Communications Coordinator since 2008, and served as editor (2008-2016) and consulting editor (2016-present) for The Appalachian Voice.