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Can America Clean Up from Its Worst Environmental Disaster? [Contains Photo Slideshow]

With the breaking of a coal waste dam in Tennessee, environmental and human health is threatened by millions of pounds of toxic chemicals.

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Dr. Shea Tuberty, Associate Professor of Biology, one of the scientists conducting the tests concluded, "The ecosystems around Kingston and Harriman are going to be in trouble, the aquatic ones for some time, until nature is able to bury these compounds in the environment," said Tuberty. "I don't know how long that will take, maybe generations."

The coal disaster at Kingston has clued Americans in to the real consequences of coal. We use coal-fired power for almost half of our daily electricity use; when you turn on your lights, your plasma TV or laptop computer, you are probably using coal. The coal industry, which has come under sustained attack, especially in the wake of global climate change, is spending tens of millions of dollars on a public relations war to convince Americans that coal is good and clean.

But many residents of Appalachia who live with the daily effects are strenuously opposed. Long before this latest disaster, citizens in the Coal River valley in southern West Virginia have pointed to the threats of massive sludge ponds in their neighborhood: Brushy Fork, which contains 9 billion gallons of sludge and the 2.8 billion gallons that sit above Marsh Fork Elementary School, which according to reports written between 1998 and 2005 by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, is at risk for failure which could fatally impact 1,000 people downstream. From the Coal River Valley -- and across the nation -- the people cry for Marsh Fork Elementary to be moved away from the toxic waste dump which has accrued hundreds of repeated violations. But West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, III has refused this community's requests. Massey Energy, which runs the operation, assures West Virginians that their dam is safe and inspected regularly. But that is also what TVA assured the people of Kingston.

Clearly corporate responsibility is an issue when it comes to the threats posed by coal. In the case of Kingston, environmental organizations like Greenpeace are calling for criminal charges against TVA. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is planning to sue TVA under the Federal Clean Water Act. Additionally, Roane County land developers are suing TVA for $165 million. And many are hoping that the Kingston spill will be the impetus to help Americans commit to the immediate transition away from coal to clean, renewable energy.

 

 

Antrim Caskey is a Brooklyn-based independent photojournalist whose work focuses on community and social justice issues. Caskey has been reporting on the human and environmental costs of Mountaintop Removal/Valley Fill coal mining since May, 2005.