Toxins in water under Tennessee power plant causing alarm


The water drawn from the Memphis Sand aquifer beneath this Tennessee city is so revered that a city utility called it a “community treasure” in its cleanliness.

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So alarms went off after state environmental officials. The Tennessee Valley Authority reveal high levels of arsenic and lead had been found in groundwater. Beneath the coal-fired Allen Fossil Plant in southwest Memphis. The toxins were detected in wells where pollution is monitored from ponds. That hold coal ash the dirty byproduct left from burning coal to generate electricity.

One well had arsenic at levels more than 300 times the federal drinking-water standard. The monitoring wells run about 50 feet (15 meters) deep. About a half-mile (.8 kilometer) from far deeper wells drilled by the TVA directly into the Memphis Sand aquifer. Next year, the TVA plans to pump 3.5 million gallons (13.2 million liters) of water out of the aquifer per day to cool a natural gas power plant. That is replacing the aging Allen coal plant.

A layer of clay lies between the groundwater and the aquifer. This prompted the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation its spokesman Eric Ward. To state “confident about contaminants found in TVA wells. The Allen Fossil Plant are not impacting drinking water.”

Existence of toxins and their proximity to other deeper wells

The Sierra Club has demanded more tests and said TVA should immediately contract with Memphis Light, Gas & Water to use municipal water to cool their new plant.

Department has asked Memphis Light, Gas & Water the city’s water utility to test treated drinking water. It also told the TVA, which has a history of difficulties handling coal ash, to pinpoint where the toxins came from. Still, the mere existence of toxins and their proximity to other deeper wells burrowing into the aquifer drew a sharp response from Mayor Mark Luttrell of Shelby County. His county is home to more than 900,000 residents and has Memphis as its seat.

TVA’s history of handling coal ash ponds. The utility sued by environmental groups allege that coal ash ponds from its coal-fired power plant in Gallatin. Tennessee, are seeping pollution into the Cumberland River, violating the Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups want the waste at the 1950s-era Gallatin Fossil Plant dug up and taken elsewhere.  Also, a 2008 coal ash disaster at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. More than 5 million cubic yards of sludge into the Emory and Clinch rivers destroying homes. The TVA since has invested billions of dollars in safer ways to store coal ash.

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As the investigation continues, Memphis residents like Bennie Howie await answers. Howie said word of the toxins is “extremely upsetting,” especially after the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Memphis officials announced fanfare of 12,000 bottles prized water from the Memphis Sand aquifer being sent northward to help Flint residents.