Survey of the potential environmental and health impacts in the immediate aftermath of the coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee

Environ Sci Technol. 2009 Aug 15;43(16):6326-33. doi: 10.1021/es900714p.


An investigation of the potential environmental and health impacts in the immediate aftermath of one of the largest coal ash spills in U.S. history at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston coal-burning power plant has revealed three major findings. First the surface release of coal ash with high levels of toxic elements (As = 75 mg/kg; Hg = 150 microg/kg) and radioactivity (226Ra + 228Ra = 8 pCi/g) to the environment has the potential to generate resuspended ambient fine particles (< 10 microm) containing these toxics into the atmosphere that may pose a health risk to local communities. Second, leaching of contaminants from the coal ash caused contamination of surface waters in areas of restricted water exchange, but only trace levels were found in the downstream Emory and Clinch Rivers due to river dilution. Third, the accumulation of Hg- and As-rich coal ash in river sediments has the potential to have an impact on the ecological system in the downstream rivers by fish poisoning and methylmercury formation in anaerobic river sediments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / analysis
  • Carbon / poisoning
  • Coal / adverse effects*
  • Coal / analysis
  • Coal Ash
  • Data Collection*
  • Environment*
  • Environmental Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollution / analysis
  • Geography
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry
  • Health*
  • Metals / analysis
  • Metals / poisoning
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / poisoning
  • Radioactive Pollutants / analysis
  • Radioactive Pollutants / poisoning
  • Rivers / chemistry
  • Tennessee
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / poisoning
  • Water Pollution / adverse effects
  • Water Pollution / analysis


  • Coal
  • Coal Ash
  • Metals
  • Particulate Matter
  • Radioactive Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Carbon