America’s worst industrial accident: in pictures 


Five years ago, the town of Kingston, Tennessee, was overwhelmed by more than a billion tons of sludge spilled from a local power plant. In the new MATTER story When the Rivers Run Black, Rachel Cernansky recounts the disaster—and explores how the government and industry have failed to stop it happening again.


The following photos of coal ash in Tennessee are © J Henry Fair, Flight provided by Southwings: www.southwings.org

Gallatin Fossil Plant, Tennessee. Ash waste ponds at coal-burning power plant. This facility is one of the power plants known to be contaminating drinking water. Tests show beryllium, cadmium, nickel, and boron exceeding safe limits in groundwater and leaching into the Cumberland River, from which many people in Nashville get their drinking water.

Johnsonville Fossil Plant, New Johnsonville, TN. Machine compresses ash waste from coal-fired power plant. Data obtained from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) show that groundwater on the island contains high levels of arsenic, aluminum, boron, cadmium, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, sulfate, and total dissolved solids (TDS) far above federal Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs).

Johnsonville Fossil Plant, New Johnsonville, TN. Ash waste from coal-fired power plant. Data obtained from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) show that groundwater on the island contains high levels of arsenic, aluminum, boron, cadmium, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, sulfate, and total dissolved solids (TDS) far above federal Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs).

Kingston TVA, Harriman, TN. Coal ash cleanup effort. On December 22, 2008, a containment pond broke releasing over one billion gallons of ash and slurry into the river, causing the evacuation of numerous houses, a large fish kill, and prompting a nationwide review of coal ash handling practices.

Kingston TVA, Harriman, TN. Large impoundment under construction at power plant for storage of gypsum waste from the desulphurization process, which involves spraying a limestone slurry mixture through the hot flue gases to capture contaminants.


The following photos of the Kingston spill were taken by Dot Griffith.
After the catastrophic failure of a TVA coal ash pond dam in Kingston, TN a 40 foot tidal wave of coal ash surged across the the Swan Pond embayment of the Emory River and drowned the surrounding community at 1:00 am on Monday December 22, 2008.
Long white and gray plumes of floating coal ash contaminated the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee Rivers for moret than 20 miles downstream of the spill.
Decades of accumulated coal waste towered over the Emory River. It was held back by a dam more than 60 feet tall. When it failed, half the contents of the ash pond poured into the Emory River and the surrounding community leaving behind a giant black crater.
Swimming holes turned into a toxic dump overnight. Prior to the spill families swam and fished here. After the dam broke, the river was coated with coal ash sludge and ash bergs. Fish were killed and swiming in coal ash containing heavy metals like arsenic, boron, chromium, lead, manganese and selenium was out of the question.
Floating coal ash contaminated with a toxic stew of heavy metals was pushed by the wind and current into coves and onto shorelines of many property owners.
Red Christmas wreaths on the house and lamp posts were the silent witnesses as the rumbling and roaring tidal wave of ash surrounded this house and coated the front porch.
The once idyllic views of blue water from these lake front homes became views of a black waste pit.