On December 22, 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston coal-fired power plant spilled more than one billion gallons of wet coal fly ash over 300 acres near Harriman, TN. The spill destroyed several homes and dumped toxic materials into the confluence of the Emory and Clinch rivers. Testing has revealed the water now contains levels of arsenic, lead, and chromium 300 times above drinking water standards. The spill occurred less than a half a mile from the Kingston, TN drinking water intake.
Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen and Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby were some of the first respondents on the scene. They braved the polluted waterways to collect samples, document the process with photographs and get the word out to the media. During the sampling, TVA threatened John and Donna with arrest and ticketed them for criminal trespass.
“This is without a doubt the worst environmental disaster, barring the loss of human life, we’ve ever seen in America,” describes Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen. “What I saw up there was a crime of negligence, and someone needs to go to jail.”
John and Donna followed all the right steps for a good citizen investigation. Whenever you discover any environmental issue you in your community, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper says that the best investigations follow the same steps:
- Visit the site. Write down and photograph everything you see in the area. John and Donna did that.
- Document everything. Like John and Donna, make a note or take a picture of every incident of pollution you encounter every day.
- Phone the government. The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for most pollution issues in Ontario. Call 1-866-MOE-TIPS, and write down the date, time and who you spoke to. Reporting was a part of John and Donna’s strategy.
- Gather more facts. If the pollution persists, you need to strengthen your case. Pollution is not acceptable – either the polluter needs to be held accountable, or their licence needs to better protect the community. You need to be able to answer these questions: Where is the pollution coming from? Who controls it Is it licenced? What does the licence say? Is the pollution in compliance with the licence? Have their been complaints/charges in the past?
- Build your community. Talk to your neighbours. John and Donna worked together to gather more/different evidence.
- Determine your action. Once you have answered the questions in #4, you now have a range of options. John and Donna do!
John Wathen and Donna Lisenby returned to the scene of the spill January 8th and 9th with independent toxicology experts to allow the testers to gather their own samples, ensuring a perfect chain of custody with the evidence.
- See the Google News roundup of stories on the TVA coal ash spill
- Visit the TVA coal ash disaster site from Appalachian Voices
Living at the Barricades had the opportunity to speak with Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen about his first-hand account of the spill and the efforts by TVA to sequester the river from the public.
Listen to Living at the Barricades.
Ashhole: the Tennessee Valley coal-ash spill (Jan. 13, 2008)
On this week's show, Mark and Krystyn speak with Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen on his first-hand experience documenting and sampling the fallout from the massive spill of coal-ash into the Emory river from late December 2008.
Music on this week's show:
Birds - Dave Clark and Dawn Blithe
Tennessee Jed - The Grateful Dead
Tennessee - Arrested Development