Officials at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) are bracing themselves for a long-term wildlife study at the TVA spill site. The area was severely contaminated after a massive release of coal ash on Dec. 22, 2008. The spill originated from a holding pond belonging to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Steam Plant on Watts Bar Reservoir.
A large number of fish were killed immediately following the spill which dumped 5.4 million cubic yards (more than 1 billion gallons) of toxic sludge directly into the Emory River and surrounding lands. The spill occurred when the earthen wall of a storage pond breached. The scale of the accident is much larger than initially reported.
The full extent of the damage and impact on area wildlife will not be known for years and extensive testing will need to be done in the months ahead. According to TWRA aquatic habitat biologist, Bobby Brown, heavy metals take years to accumulate in fish and a long-term study is needed in order to assess the effects of exposure.
Plans are underway for the TWRA to begin taking tissue samples from fish affected by the spill. They will be testing for heavy metals and other contaminants. Based on the results of these tests, biologists will determine whether to expand their testing to other animals such as birds and amphibians.
Several advisories have been issued for the area including a fish consumption advisory. Several people and animals became ill after drinking contaminated water immediately after the disaster.
Several state and federal agencies are working together to address the after-effects of the spill, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. They will be assisting the TWRA with its efforts.
The disaster has reignited debate over the safety of coal ash and ruffled feathers over what many see as the need for federal regulators to step in. Only time will tell exactly how far-reaching the environmental consequences of the TVA spill will be.