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TVA: Waste pond in Alabama ruptures

STEVENSON, Ala. (AP) — A waste pond at a coal-burning power plant in northeast Alabama ruptured early Friday, but the spill was quickly contained, utility officials said.

The spill, about 30 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tenn., was the second rupture at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility in recent weeks. In late December, a dike burst at a plant near Kingston, Tenn., releasing more than 1 billion gallons of toxic-laden ash into a neighborhood.

The leak was discovered at about 6 a.m. Friday at the plant near Stevenson, said TVA spokesman John Moulton. Most of the material from the leak flowed into a settling pond at the plant site, but some spilled into nearby Widows Creek, he said.

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Tennessee sludge contains elevated levels of arsenic

(CNN) — The drinking water in the area of last month’s coal-sludge spill in eastern Tennessee is safe, but elevated levels of arsenic have been found in the sludge, authorities said.

A billion gallons of the sludge, made up of water and fly ash from a coal-burning Tennessee Valley Authority steam plant in Kingston, Tennessee, swamped 300 acres of mostly private property when a dike on a retention pond collapsed December 22.

All residents in the area were evacuated, and three homes were deemed uninhabitable, according to the TVA. About a dozen other homes were damaged.

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On Dec. 22, a holding wall at a waste pond at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn., collapsed, dumping more than a billion gallons of slurry over more than 300 acres, in what some are calling the largest environmental disaster in US history.

But what exactly is this stuff, and what effects will it have on the environment?

The sludge was a mixture of water and fly ash, a residue that is captured in the chimneys of coal-fired power plants. Fly ash is distinguished from bottom ash, which is removed from the bottom of the furnace.

Fly ash is mostly made of fine, hollow, glassy particles of silica, the most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust, as well as aluminum oxide, iron oxide, and lime, a white crystalline solid that humans have used for thousands of years. When airborne, some of types of silica particles have been found to be potentially harmful to people’s lungs.

But more worrisome are the trace concentrations of toxic metals – including arsenic, lead, barium, and chromium – that scientists think may damage the liver and nervous system and cause cancer. The ash also contains uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements. Ounce for ounce, fly ash delivers more radiation into the environment than shielded nuclear waste.

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The water main break in Montgomery County, Maryland had some compelling visuals to it, with water pouring from the ground and drivers trapped in their cars, so it received some treatment on the cable shoutcasts today. It’s a good thing, too, because the rupture of a 44 year-old pipe causing this kind of chaos does show the need for infrastructure repairs, not only as part of a larger fiscal stimulus, but to avoid catastrophes and their ancillary costs, and to maintain vital services which will have tangible benefits for years to come.

But a massive coal ash spill like we saw yesterday in Tennessee – the result of a burst dam at a private coal processing plant – is actually far more dangerous with far more lasting consequences, even if the visuals aren’t as stellar.

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In an 11th hour move, the Bush Administration today reversed an old federal rule that would have allowed Congress to take action to protect the Grand Canyon from a rash of new uranium mining claims. Driven by renewed national interest in nuclear power, the number of uranium claims staked within five miles of the Grand Canyon has increased from 10 in 2003 to 1,181 as of this October. Rampant mining near the Canyon would threaten the water quality of the Colorado River, potentially jeopardizing the drinking water supply of millions of residents in Las Vegas and Southern California. Prompted in part by the concerns of local water agencies, in June the House Committee on Natural Resources invoked its right under the Federal Land Management and Policy Act to withdraw the mining claims. But the Bureau of Land Management refused to implement the order, and the Bush Administration’s rule change today gives it official authority to thumb its nose at Congress.

Jan. 20, 2009 can’t come soon enough.

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Along the way he is also breaking a promise he made to hunters and fisherman…..

The Bush administration is exiting with three major regulatory assaults on our nation’s waterways. Yesterday, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers issued a new guidance document to clarify how many of the nation’s waterways will not, for Clean Water Act purposes, be protected. In doing so, they broke the promise that Bush made to hunting and angling groups during his 2004 reelection campaign that he would continue to apply the Clean Water Act to vitally important wetlands and headwaters streams.

The day before, the Administration approved new rules that would legalize the practice of dumping mining waste from coal mining into streams, eliminating the current, modest requirement of a 100-foot buffer zone. EPA Administrator Steve Johnson signed off on this proposal with the Orwellian comment that “Americans should not have to choose between clean coal or effective environmental protection; we can achieve both.”

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Rising levels of carbon dioxide make oceans more acidic, putting shellfish, corals, and more at risk.

oceanIf the rising level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is a slowly ticking time bomb, some scientists say, the CO2 building in seawater is a depth charge about to explode.

The world’s oceans are growing more acidic at an increasing – and some say alarming – rate. More and more environmentalists and scientists are saying it may take a severe lowering of CO2 levels to keep ocean life from facing major disruptions, including possible mass extinctions of species.

Seawater absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. But the huge amounts oceans have taken in since the Industrial Revolution began 250 years ago are beginning to make it more acidic.

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