22 Electric Utilities Develop Coal Ash Impoundment Action Plans
Fly ash sludge/slurry from the Tennessee Valley Authority made its way into Tennessee's Emory River in December 2008, bringing attention to the integrity of coal ash impoundments. Photo courtesy of Steven Alexander/USFWS.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 4 released action plans developed by 22 electric utility facilities with coal ash impoundments, describing the measures the facilities are taking to make their impoundments safer.
The action plans are a response to EPA’s assessment reports on the structural integrity of these impoundments that the agency made public last September. Coal ash was brought prominently to national attention in 2008 when an impoundment holding disposed ash waste generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority broke open, creating a massive spill in Kingston, Tenn., that covered millions of cubic yards of land and river and is regarded as one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history. Shortly afterwards, EPA began overseeing the cleanup, as well as investigating the structural integrity of impoundments where ash waste is stored.
“EPA is committed to making communities across the country safer places to live,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “The information we are releasing today shows that we continue to make progress in our efforts to prevent future coal ash spills.”
Since May 2009, EPA has been conducting on-site assessments of coal ash impoundments and ponds at electric utilities. EPA provides copies of the structural integrity assessment reports to each facility and requests the facilities implement the reports’ recommendations and provide their plans for taking action. The action plans address recommendations from assessments of 43 impoundments at 22 facilities. Many of these facilities have already begun implementing EPA’s recommendations.
EPA also is releasing assessment reports on the structural integrity of an additional 40 coal ash impoundments at 16 facilities across the country. Most of the 40 impoundments have a rating of “high” or “significant” hazard potential, indicating the potential for harm in the event of impoundment failure. A high hazard potential rating means if an impoundment fails, it can cause loss of human life. A significant hazard potential rating means impoundment failure can cause economic loss, environmental damage, or damage to infrastructure.
The assessment reports have been completed by firms, under contract to EPA, that are expert in the field of dam integrity. A draft of these reports has been reviewed by the facilities and the states for factual accuracy. The comments on the draft reports are posted on EPA’s Web site. EPA is continuing to review the reports and technical recommendations and is working with the facilities to ensure that the recommendations are implemented in a timely manner. Should facilities fail to take sufficient measures, EPA will take additional action.