The Hidden Danger in Coal Ash The Selenium Wars – in the TN. Legislature.

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

This is up at DK now – not getting ANY attention, but it’s an important story – so Ill put it up here but don’t have time to edit.

Who knows how the polo ponies were killed in Florida?  

“An overdose of selenium is the probable cause of death of 21 polo horses in Wellington last week, the state veterinarian said today.”…

While a little bit of selenium may be health promoting, at amounts of just a little bit more, it becomes a deadly toxic.…

Aquatic selenium pollution is a global environmental safety issue. http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.u…

Kossacks have heard previously in many good diaries about  the Kingston coal ash disaster, including this one TOXIC BREW IN TENNESSEE: A look at what’s in TVA’s coal ash.…

There have also been diaries about the absurd things happening in the Tennessee legislature this year, particularly with guns…

and our water laws.

EPA is moving to impose new restrictions on the level of contaminants power plants can discharge.……

Yet the Tennessee legislature is set to pass a bill that would substantially weaken the state’s water quality standard for selenium.……

A staff scientist who works with water quality standards for the Tennessee Department of Conservation and Environment told me two weeks ago that the degree of magnitude of increase in the selenium in the ponies’ dietary supplement that went from what was healthy for them to what killed them was of the same degree of magnitude as the change in the bill before the Tennessee legislature.

The legislative battle is really turning into a saga.  The legislature is being asked to pass a statute requiring the state Water Board to adopt by public necessity regs a draft selenium standard that they have been told twice now by the Tn. Attorney General that EPA will not approve (there is no Tennessee site specific science to support a standard other than the current federal recommendation, which is identical to Tennessee’s current water quality standard for selenium).

And they are doing this at a time when there are numerous minesite in the state where excessive discharges of selenium have polluted our waters,and selenium is turning out to be a major problem with the clean-up from the TVA coal ash disaster.

Appalachian Voices recently released a report on detailed testing conducted on samples taken from the TVA coal ash spill near Kingston, TN that confirmed high levels of toxic elements present in water, sediment and fish tissue.  Scientists working in coordination with Appalachian Voices and the Waterkeeper Alliance’s Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Program collected samples from the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee rivers at the Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill.  The tests were conducted at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, by Dr. Shea Tuberty, Associate Professor of Biology; Dr. Carol Babyak, Assistant Professor of Chemistry; Dr. Sarah Carmichael, Assistant Professor of Geology; and Dr. Susan L. Edwards, Assistant Professor of Biology.

Preliminary analyses of ash, water, sediments, and fish tissues collected near the spill site 18 days following the dike failure revealed the following:

1) the total recoverable toxic elements arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and selenium in water

exceeded protective drinking water and/or aquatic life criteria levels;

2) ash and ash-laden river sediments had arsenic levels that exceeded the EPA removal limits; selenium levels increased dramatically downstream of the spill;

3) selenium levels in fish were at and beyond the thresholds of toxicity for reproduction and growth;

4) fish suffered internal and external impacts from the spill, with abnormal changes to gills in particular;

5) detailed analysis of floating ash particles (cenospheres) found that approximately 10% of these particles contain an iron oxide coating that may be transporting arsenic into water.

Dr. Dennis Lemly, one of the nation’s experts on selenium toxicity in fish, said,

“We found selenium concentrations in important fish species in the Emory River were already at toxic thresholds (the tipping point). This means that the river ecosystem cannot assimilate additional selenium from the ash spill,” he said. “There is no margin of safety, and additional selenium uptake will result in bioaccumulation to levels that severely impact fish reproduction.”…

From Kelly Hearn’s excellent article:…

A handful of scientists are saying that the river-clearing operation will unleash a deadly pulse of selenium, an element found in coal ash that’s good for humans in small doses but toxic to people, fish and wildlife at high levels. Water-treatment plants can filter selenium out of drinking water, but humans may still ingest harmful doses by eating contaminated fish and wildlife. . . .

Despite warnings that the dredging may trigger a major toxic event, the TVA, backed by federal and state officials, is following through with its plans. “There apparently has been horrendous pressure to dredge at any costs,” said Bryce Payne, an independent environmental consultant who has been working on fly ash for more than fifteen years. “But the fish and similarly vulnerable biota in the Emory and Clinch River system simply will not be able to tolerate additional selenium.”

Payne, who is considered by some to be the nation’s top expert on coal ash issues, has led a behind-the-scenes effort–alongside some of the nation’s top selenium scientists–to convince the TVA that the selenium problem is a loaded gun, that the authority’s water-monitoring plan is faulty on scientific principle and that alternatives to dredging may well help avoid serious damage caused by selenium. . . .

The problem with fish tissue tests, he explained, is that selenium “bioaccumulates,” inching its way into fish and animals over months and years, not days and weeks. If you find selenium in high concentrations in fish tissue, the theory goes, you’re already in trouble. “[Fish tissue data] will not tell you how much more selenium may still come after you have finally detected that a threatening amount was there in the first place,” he told Sloan. In a telephone interview, Payne said that the threat was hard to detect: “Selenium, by its nature and chemistry, will sneak up on us,” Payne says. “It’s like the frog in the pot of slowly heating water.”

Of the Tn bill, Dr. Lemly says:

“Technical analysis reveals that the proposed 7.9 ug/g value would allow up to 85% of fish and aquatic birds to be poisoned.”

For now we’ve had a little victory in the Tennessee selenium wars, as the bill did not receive the constitutional majority in a vote after more than two hours debate on the House Floor.  But it failed by just one vote so the Republican sponsor (chair of the House environment and conservation committee) can bring the bill back next week if he can get the Rules and Calendar committee to pass it out of committee.  For an entertaining read on this see Jeff Woods’

Pigs Fly and Corporate Polluters Lose Fight in State House…


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    • Edger on June 6, 2009 at 23:37

    would like a bowl of that ash for breakfast? :-/

  1. Thank you for posting it here.

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