Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Town Monday - Please Don't Drink the Water!

On a recent MTM post, I wrote about the Kingston coal ash spill that occurred in December, 2008. Now over six weeks later, still entrenched in massive clean-up activities, residents and Federal authorities alike remain concerned about the water (and air) quality here.

Late last week, the EPA released reports showing elevated levels of arsenic in the Emory River on the day after the massive spill near Kingston, Tennessee. Its report also showed initial total concentrations of lead five times above normal and slightly elevated total levels of beryllium, cadmium, and chromium. As a result of this initial data, the EPA has found the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Stanley Meiburg, the regional administrator of the EPA, wrote in a letter released on February 6th that it considers Kingston’s steam plant spill to be “an unpermitted discharge of a pollutant in contravention of the (federal) Clean Water Act." The TVA was ordered to turn in a correction plan ASAP, along with all relative data collected. As a Kingston resident, I suppose it’s comforting to know that more recent and continuing test results show air and water quality samples from the affected areas contain no contamination above regulatory levels.

Prior to publication of the EPA’s findings last week, Kingston Mayor Troy Beets spoke at a public briefing in early-January to discuss the state of the public drinking water in Kingston. In an effort to assuage the fears of Kingston residents, Mayor Beets, who has been a local resident for 40 years, assured the public that he and his family, including his grandchildren and great-grandchild all safely drink the water, and that he is absolutely confident they are not being harmed in any way. Not only have they drunk the tap water and taken baths at his Kingston home, but they use the Kingston tap water there to mix the formula for his 3 ½ month old grandchild.

And just to put his money where his mouth was, so to speak, Mayor Beets then held up a plastic cup filled that morning with tap water from his Kingston home. Finishing his drink in a matter of seconds, Mayor Beets then assured the public he was fine and no harm would come to him. He repeated he had complete confidence in the quality of Kingston water (despite the fact that the county’s [Roane County] school system has opted to begin using bottled water in its food preparation). However, this was before the EPA findings were released, so I wonder if that confidence remains today.

My family lives in the country, not so near the water in Kingston, and we have a private well that isn’t tied to the city water. So while residents with private wells or springs were first told to stop drinking the water, we were glad to learn that the most recent residential well sampling results also appeared to meet safe drinking water limits. Nevertheless, we are glad to have a whole house water filtration system, coupled with the bottled water we all regularly drink, so that leaves only bathing and washing the dog in the remotely contaminated water.

Meanwhile, the multi-million dollar clean-up continues and is not expected to be completed until the summer. How long, then, will it take to restore the natural beauty of the Emory River and its surroundings, as well as the aquatic and avian life – perhaps years.


Sepiru Chris said...


Really interesting post. Very worrisome, I am sure, and I am keen to hear how clean up and remediation progresses. The images you showed in your first post, and your first-person perspective bring everything much closer to home.

Reb said...

I agree with Chris. I am glad to hear your well water is testing potable.

Clare2e said...

Thanks for sharing this with us. Once the stories leave the headlines, the very important tasks of cleaning up the aftermath often go unremarked and unmonitored. Tip back a cold, clear one for me, and keep us posted.

Lauren said...

That's so scary about the spill--and sad too. I hope the cleanup is complete early.

Travis Erwin said...

I wonder how many years before the impact of that accident is no longer noticeable.

Barbara Martin said...

I ditto Sepiru Chris' comment. Please keep us updated on the clean up.

lyzzydee said...

How terrible and really scary,

Junosmom said...

You know, it is really a media trick for an old man to demonstrate drinking the water because the effects of contaminated water are long-term, not immediate. His grandchildren might not die, rather have impairment to their brain development due to lead. It is irresponsible to say it's all okay without extensive continued testing.