Tennessee's coal ash sludge brought to Georgia

Some coal ash sludge from Tennessee has been shipped to Georgia for storage even as advocacy groups and government regulators consider whether it can be dangerous to people and the environment.

State officials and the Tennessee Valley Authority confirmed Friday a Taylor County landfill stored some of the 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge that spilled out of its retention pond near Knoxville last December. Three houses were destroyed and two dozen more damaged, 300 acres of land were buried, roads and railroad tracks were covered and sludge flooded into the nearby Emory River.

TVA spokesman Gil Francis said 1,000 tons of sludge was dried before it was loaded into 14 rail tank cars and shipped to Taylor County, east of Columbus. Another load was taken to a landfill in Perry County, Ala., between Tuscalossa and Montgomery.

The Georgia and Alabama sites were chosen to test methods of transporting and disposing of the sludge.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division was notified of the shipment but has had no role, according to Jeff Cown, manager of EPD's solid waste program. Cown said the state had not been told if more coal ash from Kingston would be sent to southwest Georgia.

Messages left for several officials with the company that operates the Taylor County landfill, Indiana-based Veolia Environmental Services, were not returned.

Francis, the TVA spokesman, said a decision concerning the disposal of the rest of the coal ash sludge should be made soon.

"By doing the tests using different [types of rail] cars and things of that nature, we can make decisions on the best way to go," Francis said.

The impact coal ash has on the environment also would be considered, he said.

"We want to make sure it's the safest way," Francis said. "When you do demonstrations, it gives you a sound basis [to make a decision]."

While TVA officials investigate where to put the coal ash that breached an earthen dam near Kingston, Tenn., workers continue dredging the still-wet sludge and clearing roads around the Fossil Plant in Tennessee.

Tom Kilgore, president and CEO, told the TVA Board of Directors on Thursday several lawsuits filed after the Dec. 22 spill are pending in federal court but TVA has already reached settlements with 46 families and six businesses damaged by the sludge.

Soon after the spill, the federal Environmental Protection Agency began developing regulations to address the management of the coal ash, a by-product coal-fired power plants. The EPA said it expects to begin taking public comment on proposed rules by the end of the year.

At the same time, the spill prompted environmental groups to increase their warnings about the potential increased risk of cancer and other help problems for people living coal ash disposal sites; there are 11 coal ash disposal sites in seven Georgia counties.