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


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.







Avner Vengosh

Nicholas Distinguished Professor of Environmental Quality

Avner Vengosh is a Distinguished Professor and Nicholas Chair of Environmental Quality at the Nicholas School of the Environment. He is the chair of the Division of  Earth and Climate Sciences. Professor Vengosh and his team have studied the energy-water nexus, conducting pioneer research on the impact of hydraulic fracturing and coal ash disposal on the quantity and quality of water resources in the U.S. and China. He has also investigated the sources and mechanisms of water contamination in numerous countries across the globe, including salinity and radioactivity in the Middle East, uranium in India, fluoride in Eastern Africa, arsenic in Vietnam, and hexavalent chromium in North Carolina and China. As part of these studies, his team has developed novel geochemical and isotopic tracers that are used as fingerprints to delineate the sources of water contamination and evaluate potential risks for human health. Currently, his team is engaged in studying phosphate rocks geochemistry and the impact of fertilizers on soil and water quality, unconventional sources of critical raw materials, and potential environmental effects of lithium mining from hard rocks and brines. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA) and International Association of Geochemistry (IAGC). In 2019, 2020 and 2021 he was recognized as one of the Web of Science Highly Cited Researchers. He serves as an Editor of GeoHealth and on the editorial board of the journal Environmental Science and Technology. He has published 171 scientific papers in leading international journals. His recent cross-disciplinary book “Water Quality Impacts of the Energy-Water Nexus” (Cambridge University Press, 2020) provides an integrated assessment of the different scientific and policy tools around the energy-water nexus. It focuses on how water use, and wastewater and waste solids produced from fossil fuel energy production affect water quality and quantity. Summarizing cutting edge research, the book describes the scientific methods for detecting contamination sources in the context of policy and regulations.

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