Officials Investigate Toxins in Water Under Tennessee Power Plant

Officials Investigate Toxins in Water Under Tennessee Power Plant

State officials and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) have announced the discovery of high levels of arsenic and lead in groundwater beneath the Allen Fossil Plant, located in southwest Memphis. Officials found the toxins in wells where pollution from ponds containing leftover coal ash is monitored. The Allen Fossil Plant, you see, is powered by coal.

In one well, arsenic levels were found to be more than 300 times the federal drinking-water standard. The 50-foot-deep monitoring wells are about a half-mile from considerably deeper wells drilled by the TVA directly into the Memphis Sand aquifer. The TVA has a plan in place to dump 3.5 million gallons of water out of the aquifer per day in 2018 to cool a natural gas power plant that will replace the aging Allen plant.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesman Eric Ward says he is “confident the contaminants found in TVA wells at the Allen Fossil Plant are not impacting drinking water” because of a layer of clay that separates the groundwater from the aquifer.

Despite Ward’s assurances, the department asked the city’s water utility, Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW), to test drinking water. It further instructed the TVA, which has had problems handling coal ash in the past, to pinpoint where the toxins originated.

A TVA spokesman says the company doesn’t know where the arsenic and lead are coming from.

Mayor Mark Luttrell expressed alarm and anger over the high levels of toxins, saying:

“The levels of arsenic in the water samples are not acceptable to our community.”

The Sierra Club is calling for additional water testing and believes TVA should immediately contract MLGW to cool their new plant with municipal water.

Handling coal ash ponds is not the TVA’s biggest strength, to say the least. Environmental groups have sued the company over allegations that its coal ash ponds from its coal-fired power plant in Gallatin, Tennessee, are seeping pollution into the Cumberland River, violating the Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups want the waste at the Gallatin Fossil Plant to be dug up and transplanted elsewhere. TVA, however, maintains that it’s both cheaper and safer for the waste to stay put.

Fox 13 in Memphis took 2 samples of groundwater from an area of the city called Boxtown and had them tested in mid-July 2017. [2]

Michael Kauffman, the chemist who oversaw the tests, said:

“All we can tell you is there’s no arsenic that we were able to find. Beyond that, MLGW or someone else would have to provide you information with how good the drinking water is.”

MLGW is testing its wells, and the results should become available soon.


[1] The Associated Press

[2] Fox 13 Memphis