Cleanup under way at coal plant flood - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Cleanup under way at coal plant flood

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Heavy equipment on Wednesday began moving massive piles of fly ash and mud that buried a road, railroad tracks and a small neighborhood when an earthen dike on a retention pond broke at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant.

Officials for the nation's largest public utility say the cleanup from the Monday night disaster at the Kingston Fossil Plant could take weeks. Meanwhile, initial TVA water quality tests indicate concentrations of toxic metals from the spill are within safe levels.

In addition, the federal utility says water entering the town of Kingston's intake pipe six miles below the power plant can meet safe drinking standards with normal filtration.

The Kingston plant is located near Harriman, about 50 miles west of Knoxville, along the Emory River, which joins the Clinch River and flows into the main Tennessee River.

"Mercury was below detectable levels at all sample locations," a TVA statement said. "One of the 11 sample stations showed a slightly elevated level of zinc, but was located furthest from the ash slide area and will be retested."

Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said Wednesday the agency has yet to complete its own water testing. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also is involved.

The dike breach, believed caused by a combination of heavy rains and overnight temperatures in the teens, released around 2 million cubic yards of ash, water and mud that covered up to 400 acres. Three homes were destroyed and several others damaged. No one was seriously injured.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that residents returned to collect belongings Wednesday, while a temporary levee was being built on the Emory River and a boom was placed farther downstream on the Clinch River to collect surface contamination.

The bulk of the fly ash "consists of inert material not harmful to the environment," the TVA statement said.

A new residential water line skirting the plant was completed Wednesday, while other cleanup work was continuing round-the-clock.            

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

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