Another test confirms Memphis drinking water unaffected by arsenic near gas plant

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Environmental experts confirm toxins in groundwater near a Memphis natural gas plant are not getting into the drinking water.

Tennessee Valley Authority received results from yet another investigation into the groundwater near its new Allen Fossil Plant. TVA submitted those results to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The tests showed that the water with high levels of arsenic, lead, and fluoride are not contaminating the Memphis Aquifer.

Despite another test saying Memphis drinking water remains safe, TVA said it remains committed to not operating the wells around the contaminated water at this time.

Rather than using the wells, TVA is working on contingency plans to supply cooling water to the natural gas plant. TVA expects to begin operations at the facility sometime this spring, as scheduled.

However, Southern Environmental Law Center said it still has concerns about the contaminated water:

"TVA's statement about the remedial investigation confirms our biggest fear--that there is a hydraulic connection between the arsenic-contaminated groundwater and the Memphis Sand Aquifer, the city's drinking water source. Although TVA is working on a contingency plan to supply cooling water from Memphis Light, Gas & Water, we still have major concerns that the pressure from pumping millions of gallons of water each day from a nearby station could pose similar contamination risks.  These threats to Memphis's drinking water source could have been avoided if TVA had gone through the appropriate steps including conducting an in-depth environmental review, involving the public in the decision-making process and admitting its on-site contamination sooner. TVA should learn from its past mistakes and involve the public now in deciding how to provide water for the gas plant, including fully analyzing options like using recycled gray water as it originally proposed to the citizens of Memphis."

But the question remains – where did those contaminants come from?

"I'm both happy and sad," Ward Archer with the group Protect Our Aquifer said.

Archer has mixed reactions to the results of the investigation.

"We have been concerned as a group for a good while that operating these pumps might be dangerous and might contaminate the city's drinking water," Archer said.

TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks said the bottom line in the investigation is this.

"We're just here to say first of all drinking water is safe," Brooks said.

The investigation took about a year after state regulators found elevated levels of arsenic, fluoride, and lead in some shallow aquifer monitoring wells in the coal ash pond of the Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis.

Investigators revealed that arsenic, fluoride, and lead were found in the upper aquifer; however, it's not moving downward to shallow aquifers, meaning it does not impact Memphis or its residents.

"It is certainly a good thing that the upper aquifer is containing all the material that we found, now the next step is see if we can find out the source of that and regardless if we find the source to make sure it's cleaned up," Brooks said.

Though there's no impact in the lower aquifer where drinking water is located. TVA said they won't be using production wells at the gas plant for now, something which Archer said gives him hope.

"What they've discovered now with these new test results is going to ensure that these wells will not be operated and they'll be getting their water from MLGW--which is a much safer course of action," Archer said.

TVA officials said they'll continue to look into the contaminated water in the upper aquifer to see if they can determine its source.

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