New study finds severe groundwater contamination at TN coal plants

Nov. 12, 2013
A new Environmental Integrity Project report shows toxic groundwater pollution has occurred at all 11 Tennessee Valley Authority coal plants.

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 12, 2013 -- According to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), severe toxic groundwater pollution has occurred at all 11 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal plants, with concentrations of arsenic, boron, cobalt, manganese, and other pollutants exceeding health-based guidelines in dozens of downgradient wells.

Five years after the billion-gallon coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn., the report shows that decades of mismanagement have led to the contamination. The EIP analysis indicates that the TVA pollutants are associated with coal ash and exceed health-based guidelines. Further, the report -- based primarily on Freedom of Information Act requests -- also shows that TVA is not adequately monitoring much of the groundwater around its ash disposal areas.

"As we approach the five-year anniversary of the nation's worst coal ash spill, TVA ought to be leading the effort to clean up groundwater contamination from its leaking landfills and ponds," EIP Director Eric Schaeffer said. "Instead, the records show patchwork monitoring and no real effort to contain the damage at these sites. TVA needs a comprehensive plan to monitor and clean up the groundwater contamination caused by years of slipshod disposal practices."

The report also shows that TVA frequently stops monitoring areas that it knows to be contaminated. For example, TVA installed seven wells around the fly ash and bottom ash ponds at the Paradise plant in Kentucky in 2010, found high concentrations of several pollutants in 2011, and then stopped monitoring all seven wells. Other areas, including abandoned ash disposal units at the Allen, Bull Run, John Sevier, and Johnsonville plants, have not been monitored at all in recent years.

Abel Russ, EIP attorney and the author of the report, continued, "We were particularly surprised to see that TVA often fails to measure the pollutants most closely associated with coal ash. Not only are these pollutants unsafe, they also provide early warnings of leakage from ash disposal areas. A groundwater monitoring network that doesn't focus on these pollutants is simply inadequate."

Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center expounded, "Coal ash groundwater pollution is contaminating rivers, fishing lakes and drinking water across the southeast. This is a crisis that is growing in magnitude as we learn more about it."


The Environmental Integrity Project ( is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws. EIP has three goals: (1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; (2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and (3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.