TVA Coal Ash Spill, December 2008

On Monday, December 22, 2008, a massive dam at the Kingston coal-fired power plant in Harriman, Tenn., ruptured and spilled 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash into the Clinch and Emory rivers. The disaster, which covered more than 300 acres in toxic wet coal ash sludge, damaged homes, destroyed wildlife, and clogged the waterways with toxic sludge.

The catastrophe drew national attention to a danger that until then had been largely out of sight. Since that day, incidents have taken place in Widow’s Creek, Ala., Maryland, Oak Creek, Wis., and most recently on the Dan River in North Carolina.

Coal ash, a waste product that remains after the burning of coal for electricity, is often stored behind earthen dams in huge, generally unlined impoundments, and contains a toxic mixture of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and chromium. [ Read more about coal ash pollution ]

Appalachian Voices was on the scene within a day, teaming up with Southwings to take pictures from the air on Dec. 24, and launching two separate missions by water to test the river and fish for pollutants as a result of the spill.

Below are stories, photos and videos of the work we did to help uncover the truth about the largest coal ash disaster to date.

Waterkeepers, Appalachian Voices Take Samples from Ground Zero

Water and coal ash sample results
Appalachian Voices’ preliminary tests found high levels of toxic chemicals in Harriman, Tenn., fly ash deposits

Fish sample results
Appalachian Voices conducted additional independent tests 18 days following the TVA disaster, and found high levels of toxic chemicals in the fly ash deposits and in Emory River fish.

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Additional resources

Sign up to become a Voice for clean water lets citizens learn about specific coal ash dumps in the South, including information on health threats and safety ratings. Brought to you by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, N.C. Conservation Network and more.