A bigger and better Kingston plant landfill? Really?

SOCM’s E3 Committee doesn’t think so!

By Cathie Bird

Six years ago yesterday – December 22, 2008 – a retention pond wall collapsed at Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston plant in Harriman, Tennessee and released around 1.09 billion gallons of fly ash into the environment. It is considered to be one of the worst man-made disasters ever in the United States.

Earlier this month, citizens gathered at a public hearing to receive comments on a tentative decision by the Tennessee Department of environment and Conservation (TDEC) to issue a solid waste disposal facility major modification permit for an existing Class II landfill at TVA’s Kingston plant.

Screen shot from Google Earth on 23 December 2014. The area shows the Kingston plant, the existing landfill and permit location, and the proximity of the Emory and Clinch river systems to the facility.


If the decision stands, activity there will include “construction, operation, closure, and post-closure care for the disposal of industrial waste consisting of gypsum waste, fly ash, bottom ash boiler slag, cinders, and clinkers generated onsite from the burning of coal and the operation of air pollution control equipment” by TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant.

According to TDEC, the landfill modifications represent a shift from wet placement of coal combustion wastes to a dry stack landfill method that will produce a more stable final fill.

The coal ash spill at Kingston was one of the worst ecological disasters in US history.

Unfortunately, the current landfill sits on land that has significant sinkholes and is generally unstable. This landfill would be expanded to about 100 acres of this karst geology. A bedrock contour diagram of the area suggests that the risk for future sinkhole dropouts may be substantial.

In 2010, during the first filling of this site, there was a dropout that happened so fast that it caused a vortex in the waste and resulted in contamination to the Clinch River. More sinkholes were discovered when the leak blowout was repaired.

SOCM members and allies are concerned that another dropout will dump coal ash waste into the river if TVA is allowed to move forward with the landfill at this site. Since TDEC’s own regulations prohibit landfills in unstable areas, the agency would be breaking its own rules if it allows modifications to this landfill.

This landfill is too close to the Clinch River. TDEC should require a much larger buffer zone because the 2010 sinkhole blowout showed that waste can reach the river so fast that is not detected and stopped before it hits the water. This landfill full of toxic ash could be flooded when the Clinch floods.

Map of the landfill site from one of the permit documents (GA 120592_OpsManual_rev3 46)


The karst geology and proximity to the Clinch River here is not the only concern.

Groundwater monitoring requirements in the draft permit are wholly inadequate and do not require monitoring of all coal ash pollutants. Toxics from coal ash include arsenic, chromium, and selenium boron and other poisonous metals. TVA knows from previous testing for coal ash constituents that toxic material is present. Given the history of coal ash contamination caused by waste at the Kingston plant, it makes no sense for TDEC to allow TVA to operate this landfill without adequate groundwater monitoring requirements.

The draft permit contains variances that pose a significant threat to the surrounding surface and groundwater. TVA requested a variance to allow waste to encroach on wetlands. TDEC should not grant such a variance because there is no way to ensure that toxic seepage won’t contaminate groundwater.

You can help protect Tennessee’s people and water resources by asking TDEC to revoke permit IDL730000211, and require TVA to find a geologically suitable location for this landfill at another site.

Send your comments on Permit IDL730000211 by December 30th to Mr. Patrick Flood, P.E., Director, Division of Solid Waste Management, William R. Snodgrass Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, 14th Floor, Nashville, TN 37243 or e-mail Pat.Flood@tn.gov

Be sure to read SOCM’s December 22nd press release about the December 9th hearing and the problems with this landfill.

You can also see the permit documents for yourself at TDEC’s website page for this permit.

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