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TVA Officials to Lead Seminar on Huge Coal Ash Spill

Two members of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Ash Recovery Project will lead a special seminar at Old Dominion University Tuesday, April 3, on the environmental impact and other aspects of the 5 million-cubic-yard spill of coal ash that occurred in 2008 at TVA's coal-fired generating plant in Kingston, Tenn., on the Emory River.

Neil Carriker and William Rogers, who have been involved in the post-accident response and recovery efforts, will speak at 12:30 p.m. in Room 1202 of the E.V. Williams Engineering and Computational Sciences Building. Their topic is "The TVA Kingston Coal Ash Spill - Overview of the Response and Recovery Effort, Research Underway, Current Status and Plans."

This special seminar of the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences is free and open to the public.

While on campus, Carriker and Rogers will review the progress of two ODU research projects on the environmental impacts of coal ash, which are being supported by TVA through the Oak Ridge Associated Universities consortium.

Gregory Cutter and Peter Sedwick, both chemical oceanographers in the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, were among a select group of scientists who were awarded a total of $2 million for environmental research related to the accidental spill. Their research projects extend through the middle of next year.

The TVA's awards for the research by the ODU scientists and by teams from four other universities followed the Dec. 22, 2008, failure of an earthen wall in the ash containment facility at the authority's generating plant in Kingston. The size of the resulting spill of coal ash sludge was unprecedented. A 30-foot-deep channel in the Emory River was completely blocked.

Carriker and Rodgers will describe the ways that the TVA has studied the spill and addressed the cleanup. A chief goal of the TVA Kingston Ash Recovery Project is to evaluate potential ecological effects of the accidental release of coal combustion products (CCPs) into the Emory and other inland waterways.

Initial results, according to the TVA, indicate some increased bioaccumulation of contaminants, but observed ecological effects have been relatively small considering the volume of material released. Continuing monitoring and research will focus on potential long-term environmental effects.

Cutter is the principal investigator for the TVA grant "Selenium Biogeochemistry in Rivers Receiving Direct Coal Ash Inputs." The award for the project is $275,228.

Sedwick leads the second project, with Cutter also as an investigator. Its title is "A New Approach to Quantifying the Release of Bioactive Trace Elements from Coal Combustion Products to Natural Waters." The award is $298,924.

Selenium can have varying impacts on aquatic ecosystems, with toxicity depending on its chemical forms (species). Cutter has been doing research on-site in Tennessee and in his laboratory on the ODU campus to determine the speciation of dissolved and particulate selenium in the Emory and Clinch rivers. He has sought to determine if the biogeochemical cycle of selenium in a relatively swift-moving river is fundamentally different from that in the still waters of reservoirs, where research of this type has been focused in the past. He also is studying how the cycle is affected by environmental variables such as temperature and oxygen concentrations in the water.

Sedwick has done research on how combustion aerosols such as coal fly ash deliver iron and other trace elements into the oceans, and on factors affecting the bioavailability of the iron. For the TVA project, his research group is applying a new technique to assess the potential release of bioactive trace elements and nutrients from CCPs that enter natural waters. The suite of elements to be studied includes nitrogen, silicon, phosphorus, vanadium, chromium, manganese, iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, antimony, lead, thallium and uranium.

This article was posted on: April 2, 2012

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