A coal ash spill in eastern Tennessee that experts were already calling the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United States is more than three times larger than initially estimated, according to an updated survey by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Officials at the authority initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant, about 40 miles west of Knoxville, gave way on Monday. But on Thursday they released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep.
The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.
But don't worry, we don't know for sure that it will kill the victims:
Mr. Moulton said on Friday that the levels exceeded safety limits for drinking water, but that both metals were filtered out by water treatment processes.
Mercury and arsenic, he said, were “barely detectable” in the samples.
The ash pond was adjacent to the Emory River and near a residential area, where three houses were destroyed by the tide of muddy ash. Water sampled several miles downstream from the spill was safe to drink, but its iron and manganese content exceeded the secondary drinking water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which govern taste and odor but not potential health effects, Mr. Moulton said.
Neither the authority nor the E.P.A. has released the results of tests of soil or the ash itself. Authority officials have said that the ash is not harmful, and the authority has not warned residents of potential dangers, though federal studies show that coal ash can contain dangerous levels of heavy metals and carcinogens.
“You’re not going to be endangered by touching the ash material,” said Barbara Martocci, a spokeswoman for the T.V.A. “You’d have to eat it. You have to get it in your body.”
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation also released a statement saying there was no indication of risk unless the ash was ingested.
"Ingested." You mean, as in "inhaled"? Because it seems to me it will be almost impossible for residents to avoid breathing it in. Oh well. Thanks, BushCo!