Tennessee Valley Authority officials assured state lawmakers on Tuesday that the cleanup of coal ash spilled into the Emory River in east Tennessee is not a health risk.
Video: Lawmakers Updated On Coal Ash Spill Cleanup
In December 2008, about 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash laced with arsenic and potentially toxic substances spilled out of a holding pond at the Kingston TVA plant.
Steve McCracken, TVA's general manager of the cleanup, told the Joint Conservation and Environment Committee that about 2.5 million cubic yards of coal ash have been removed from the river, nearly 70 percent of the ash spilled into the water.
He said "there are no air emissions or water emissions" that are affecting anybody on or off the site and that the agency will continue to monitor the area after the cleanup.
"There's no doubt in my mind that there will be a long-term monitoring program to determine that indeed there is no impact to people off site," McCracken told reporters after the meeting.
So far, he said 149 trains have transported roughly 1.4 million tons of ash away from the site to a solid waste landfill in Alabama. He said cleanup of the river is on schedule to be complete in May.
McCracken said officials are collecting samples of vegetation and wildlife to measure the spill's exposure and keep tabs on any health risks.
Rep. Dennis Ferguson, a Midtown Democrat whose district includes the Roane County spill site, said his main concern is people's health.
"They reassured me today ... that the water is good, the air is good," Ferguson said. "That's a good sign. It was a disaster that happened. They've worked very hard to try to clean it up."
Last month, a federal environmental official said some air quality data collected at the site is worthless because of laboratory mistakes but the air quality in the area is good, thanks partly to rainy weather. The audit covered water, sediment, ash, air, fish tissue and air quality sampling at the Kingston plant. The total cleanup is expected to cost up to $1.2 billion.
Other Plants Still Hold Coal Ash
There are five other TVA facilities in Tennessee that continue to store coal ash, including the towns of Gallatin and New Johnsonville. All of the sites were inspected immediately after the Kingston spill. Some needed immediate repairs, like the facility in New Johnsonville.
But there's more extensive work underway. A third party company is drilling to examine the land underneath the retention ponds and taking samples at these locations.
TVA has nearly 9 million consumers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.