STEVENSON, AL–TVA has estimated the spill of gypsum slurry at 10,000 gallons, said Scott Hughes, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
“We’ve got somebody on site who’s monitoring water quality to make sure there’s not any impact to aquatic organisms,” he said. Utilities that draw drinking water supplies from the Tennessee River downstream are not expected to be impacted, he said.
TVA has put out booms on Widows Creek to try to hold the slurry and the first water intake is downriver on the other side of Jackson County from the TVA plant, he said.
The liquid, coming off a pond where gypsum slurry is poured, escaped an upper pond, flowing downhill into a second containment pond.
“Since it was one slug of material – one big volume of water – the second pond could not contain it all, so some of it went over the spillway into Widows Creek,” Hughes said.
TVA official Gil Francis said today’s leak at its Widows Creek coal-burning power plant in northeastern Alabama, was caused by a break in a pipe that removes water from the 147-acre gypsum pond.
The water leaked into a settling pond, where water then escaped into Widows Creek.
Witnesses saw hay bales, which are often used to stop erosion or to help contain a spill, being driven onto site at the plant today.
The leak, discovered before 6 a.m. has been stopped, according to John Moulton, with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
“Some materials flowed into Widows Creek, although most of the leakage remained in the settling pond,” he said.
Gypsum is a byproduct of coal-burning power plants when “scrubbers” are added that use limestone spray to clean air emissions. This pulls sulfur dioxide from the emissions.
Tighter air emissions controls result in additional waste byproducts. Gypsum can be used in building materials.
Local resident contradicts TVA
A Scottsboro, Alabama man said TVA isn’t being honest about what’s happened and provided photos he said were taken today 12 miles downstream of Widows Creek, on the Tennessee River.
A silvery sludge coated the shore in the photos he said were at Bellefonte Landing, near a site for which TVA is seeking a permit to build a nuclear power plant.
“This is the same stuff on the shoreline up there at Kingston,” said Garry Morgan, who said he believed it was coming from Widows Creek.
“It’s very obvious what’s happening. All the rains we’ve had, these retention ponds haven’t been inspected and are rupturing.
Morgan is a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency Sustainability Team, which opposes a new nuclear plant, and also the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
TVA spokesman John Moulton said last night that whatever might be in the photos are not related to either TVA’s Kingston plant or its Widow Creek plant.
“To our knowledge, that … is not ash and is not gypsum either,” said TVA spokesman John Moulton.
The ash from Kingston has not moved that far downstream, so far as TVA is aware, he said.
“Most of what was released into Widows Creek was water,” he said.
“We’re using a topography sensing system to estimate the actual amount of gypsum material released into the creek.”
The results will be provided when available, the said.
Early Tennessean staff reports of the Alabama spill
Alabama environmental officials were on their way as of 10:15 a.m. Central Time to an spill at TVA’s Widows Creek coal-fired power plant in Stevenson, Ala., which is located about 110 miles southeast of Nashville.
Scott Hughes, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said, “The only thing we’ve got right now is that there was a release from a gypsum treatment operation.”
“We do understand that some of the material has reached Widows Creek.”
The creek from which TVA’s coal burning plant gets its name, crosses the plant property. Gypsum can be sold for use in wallboard, but markets have been slow and it like more standard ash can build up in waste ponds.
“We’re in the process of gathering more info and getting a full report.”
Kingston is the scene of a TVA ash pond that ruptured: Early on the morning of Dec. 22, more than a billion gallons of sludge flowed out of the pond, damaging a dozen homes and creating environmental havoc along the Emory River.
The Widows Creek Fossil Plant is located on Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River. It has eight coal-fired units and was completed in 1965. The plant consumes about 10,000 tons of coal a day. The ash from that coal was in the pond that broke there.
Anne Paine is reporting from Nashville and Brad Schrade is reporting from Stevenson, Ala.