Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Earth News

It Was the Worst Industrial Disaster In US History, and We Learned Nothing 290

Posted by Soulskill
from the par-for-the-course dept.
superboj writes "Forget Deepwater Horizon or Three Mile Island: The biggest industrial disaster in American history actually happened in 2008, when more than a billion gallons of coal sludge ran through the small town of Kingston, Tennessee. This story details how, five years later, nothing has been done to stop it happening again, thanks to energy industry lobbying, federal inaction, and secrecy imposed on Congress. 'It estimated that 140,000 pounds of arsenic had spilled into the Emory River, as well as huge quantities of mercury, aluminum and selenium. In fact, the single spill in Kingston released more chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel into the environment than the entire U.S. power industry spilled in 2007. ... Kingston, though, is by far the worst coal ash disaster that the industry has ever seen: 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash, containing at least 10 known toxins, were spilled. In fact, the event ... was even bigger than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, which spewed approximately 1 million cubic yards of oil into the Gulf of Mexico."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

It Was the Worst Industrial Disaster In US History, and We Learned Nothing

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @01:52PM (#46526363)
    The worst industrial disaster in US history is an ongoing event and involves the release of massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Exactly! We need to all stop exhaling immediately! You first

      • by bunratty (545641)
        We don't dig up fossil fuels out of the ground and eat them.
        • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:30PM (#46526755)

          We don't dig up fossil fuels out of the ground and eat them.

          What do you think saccharin is made of?

          • Isn't aspartame a petroleum product as well?

          • by bunratty (545641)
            Right, the nitpicking. Let me rephrase... 99.9% of the food we eat does not come from fossil fuels we dug up out of the ground. The carbon dioxide we exhale comes almost exclusively from carbon that is already part of the carbon cycle, so the problem with carbon dioxide emissions is not animals breathing.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by angel'o'sphere (80593)

              I would wager 50% of the food we eat depends on green houses an 'life stock stalls' that are lighted, heated and cooled with energy made from fossil fuels.
              Add to that transportation of food and water for life stock, transportation of their dung, themselves their meat etc.
              The meat industry is one of the biggest polluters of the planet ... exactly: industry, the age of mere farmers is gone since ages.

          • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @03:13PM (#46527237) Journal

            Where do you think we get fertilizers that are used to grow the food we dig out of the ground?
            Not to mention that we dig food out of the ground with fossil fuel powered equipment.

            Our modern agricultural system is not possible without petroleum inputs.

        • by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:31PM (#46526775)

          We don't dig up fossil fuels out of the ground and eat them.

          If only we did. That would lower fossil CO2 consumption compared to most of the types of food we actually eat.

          Alas, coal is not very tasty and the human body cannot do much useful with it.

    • by Teun (17872) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:17PM (#46526615) Homepage
      The shills (and uneducated) might have downmodded you but I'm happy to spend some karma on supporting your statement.

      And I work in the energy industry...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iggymanz (596061)

      bullshit, more lives saved and extended and given modern life of luxury through the use of fossil fuels than any other technological action of man

      • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:28PM (#46526739) Homepage Journal

        Yes, but the point you guys need to come to terms with is that fossil fuels aren't the only source of energy production and transport, and it's becoming apparent that the harm outweighs the minor increases in fiscal cost of many other technologies.

        We do indeed have those that think that somehow things were better before industry, but those aren't the people you should be discussing the future with. Just like I shouldn't be discussing energy plans with people who think oil is a divinely provided renewable resource.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          Clean energy is cheaper than coal once you account for the indirect externalized costs. Your electricity bill has a nice easy number at the bottom, but your health (or the health of some guy in the next city) is much harder to evaluate.

        • Just wait till we start suctioning up the liquid methane from Titan and importing that to burn.
      • by ericloewe (2129490) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:30PM (#46526759)

        Nothing that nuclear power can't fix with a much lower impact.

        • by iggymanz (596061) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:35PM (#46526821)

          i agree, however we're not smart enough like other nations to be researching or building the reactors that can't melt down, make no long -term waste (as in decay in decades rather than millenia), and that can even burn our enormous cache of cooling pond and cask "spent fuel"

          • i agree, however we're not smart enough like other nations to be researching or building the reactors that can't melt down, make no long -term waste (as in decay in decades rather than millenia), and that can even burn our enormous cache of cooling pond and cask "spent fuel"

            Exactly how would that put money into the pockets of the Big Oil corporate sponsors?

            (in case it's not obvious, I agree with you completely)

          • We do research, but we don't build anything with the results of our research. Nuclear Reactors that can't meltdown are old hat at the US research level.
          • by macpacheco (1764378) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @03:23PM (#46527333)

            It's being done, but outside the USA.
            Terrestrial Energy Inc of Canada are developing a simpler version of the LFTR reactor, the DMSR, operating on a mix of Thorium and Uranium, with the ability to be at least 50x more efficient than regular LWR reactors (as in GWh of energy produced per ton of fissile/fertile material fed into the reactor). Since it's a molten salt / molten fuel design, once the reactor is decommissioned, it's core materials can be recycled into a new reactor. They are skipping the nuclear material reprocessing (as well as a few others technological advantages of LFTR that carry perceived regulatory hurdles).
            But reprocessing could be performed every so many years, for a huge gain in efficiency (the more fission products kept inside the reactor, the less efficient it gets).
            The main difference of LFTR to DMSR is the DMSR always runs of a mix of Thorium and enriched uranium, such that any U-233 produced is instantly mixed with U-238, such that it makes the U-233 produced just as hard to extract than U-235 from mined uranium.
            But contrary to regular water cooled / solid fuel reactors, Xe-135 produced is immediately captured at the top of the reactor (Xe-135 is the biggest efficiency problem in solid fuel reactors), plus the molten fuel means annual fuel top offs can be done without stopping the reactor, making for a reactor that can run much closer to 100% of the time.
            Finally as all molten fuel / molten coolant reactors, it has the drain tank, the catch pan and the freeze plug that makes the reactor walk away safe (if the reactor overheats the freeze plug melts draining the core material into the drain tank, if the reactor suffers a leak the leakage either solidify plugging the leak or drains into the catch pan. And finally, since the core material is a solid below 300C, and there's nothing at any high pressure, the reactor isn't trying to throw radioactive materials into the atmosphere.
            Hopefully this will be online by 2022.
            Long video (73 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]
            Bottom line, if this works (I think it will), doing a full blown LFTR Thorium reactor will be much easier, since the DMSR is in most ways a simplification of the full LFTR reactor.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by kriston (7886)

              The CANDU [wikipedia.org] reactor program got it right decades ago and keeps getting better, but since it's not from the US, and has the false reputation of promoting nuclear proliferation, the US is not interested.

              CANDU also, unfortunately, has a politically-fueled false perception of promoting nuclear proliferation partly because it was falsely accused to have aided the Smiling Buddha program (that was CIRUS, not CANDU, but who's paying attention?).

              Oh, there is that unavoidable 1% tritium release rate, though.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          True, but it's too expensive.

      • That's a perfectly fine argument, but getting rid of the fossil fuels to mitigate the deaths resulting from respiratory problems, coal mining operations, climate change etc. sounds like an even better idea to me.
    • by LocalH (28506)

      As opposed to the release of massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere from animals exhaling?

      • by bunratty (545641)
        Animals breathing does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, because the carbon they exhale was already in the carbon cycle. Plants removed it from the atmosphere within the past year or so, animals ate the plants, and then they released the carbon back into the atmosphere when they respired.
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:01PM (#46526447)

    Oh yeah .. this year .. huge coal-ash spill at a retired Duke Energy coal plant [newsobserver.com]

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:42PM (#46526889) Homepage Journal

      It's smaller. What's more annoying(as a local...ish) is that the state department of environmental regulation has been gutted by a governor who actually owns a lot of stock in Duke Energy. And even after the big news about this, it turns out that Duke actually still has pumps designed to pump coal ash directly from their pools into the cape fear river "for maintenance", in direct violation of the clean water act.

      They excused it by saying "we didn't get any recommendation against it by the state environmental agency".

  • by icebike (68054) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:05PM (#46526487)

    Don't forget the Great Molasses Disaster(s) [wikipedia.org] which release tons of toxic sulfur into the rivers. These are an on-going problem over the years [nationalgeographic.com] and we have learned "Nothin".

  • by mendax (114116) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:08PM (#46526513)

    Oh, we've learned something. We've learned that this is something the government doesn't want to deal with. How much sludge does a company have to pour into a river before the government not only takes notice but does something about it?

  • Its a good reflection of Finance sector dealings and the "controversy" about global warming trumpeted by the media (it was a large component of the media's product-output at the time, needlessly fuelling a pattern of denial and argument for its own sake).

  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:11PM (#46526555) Homepage Journal

    Their recent coal ash spill coated 70 MILES of the Dan River, but thanks to them buying off the legislature and a Governor who happened to have worked for Duke Energy, they may escape any liability for the cleanup, leaving it up to the taxpayers to foot the bill.

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      last I checked everyone there benefits from the electriicty Duke makes, of course utilities get special treatment. any financial punishment of Duke would just raise your electric bill, they are called "Utilities" for a reason

    • leaving it up to the taxpayers to foot the bill.

      In November, those taxpayers will overwhelmingly vote to reelect the same legislators and Governor- because the alternative would be voting for a Democrat and their Socialist job-killing environmental regulations.

  • America should not just be pushing Alternative Energy, but should also push for Nukes and Coal to be converted to Methane( sell that overseas).
    All of this should be via a TOTAL ENERGY POLICY.
  • Nope (Score:5, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:22PM (#46526667)

    The worst industrial disaster in US history occurred in 1947 when a series of explosions killed 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org]

    The initial blast was also one of the largest non-nuclear explosion in US history.

  • In fact, the event that woke Sarah McCoin that nightâ"the deluge that moved houses and ripped trees from the groundâ"was even bigger than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, which spewed approximately 1 million cubic yards of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

    The oil that 'spilled' into the gulf in 2010 was a naturally occurring substance, as evidenced by how easily the environment dealt with it. And it genuinely makes sense to imagine that sub-surface events are exposing oil to the ocean on a regular basis, but we don't know about it because it's all very normal.

    No, a better comparison would be to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org] which spews ash everywhere on a somewhat regular basis. Ash = ash.

    Unless of course you're trying to make less of an environmental

    • The oil that 'spilled' into the gulf in 2010 was a naturally occurring substance, as evidenced by how easily the environment dealt with it.

      I think a lot of Gulf folks in the seafood industry would have something to say about "how easily the environment dealt with it".

      They're still digging oil out of the beaches in Alaska and the Exxon-Valdez incident was a long time ago now.

      • by BobMcD (601576)

        The Exxon-Valdez wasn't hauling the same thing that leaked from the hole they made in the ground...

    • In fact, the event that woke Sarah McCoin that nightâ"the deluge that moved houses and ripped trees from the groundâ"was even bigger than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, which spewed approximately 1 million cubic yards of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

      The oil that 'spilled' into the gulf in 2010 was a naturally occurring substance, as evidenced by how easily the environment dealt with it.

      Mercury is a naturally occurring substance - are you really trying to argue that dumping 100,000,000 cubic yards of mercury into the Gulf would have no negative environmental effect?

    • by ColaMan (37550) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:50PM (#46526991) Homepage Journal

      Ash = ash.
      Coal ash is different from volcanic ash.

      I used to do ash analysis on coal samples - coal ash is pushing 95% silica and alumina. The rest of the elemental analysis are trace elements, which can be made to sound super-scary when you scale up the quantities to thousands of tons. OMG! There's 100,000 pounds of this KILLER element released! Yes, but it's spread out evenly though 10 million tons of slurry over 100 square miles. You could probably strip-mine the top 5 feet of the same area in a city and find higher concentrations.

      The biggest problem is not all the toxic waste, it's all the bloody inert sludge that's everywhere.

      • by Valdrax (32670)

        There's 100,000 pounds of this KILLER element released! Yes, but it's spread out evenly though 10 million tons of slurry over 100 square miles. You could probably strip-mine the top 5 feet of the same area in a city and find higher concentrations.

        Yes, but the difference is that isn't not all in a highly soluble form with a high surface area. This is why mine tailings are such a huge source of acid and metal contamination. What would take millions of years to expose to streams and waters via natural erosion is ground up and dumped straight into waterways by industry. The resulting contamination is much higher than you would find by running water over the top of the material before processing.

      • OMG! There's 100,000 pounds of this KILLER element released! Yes, but it's spread out evenly though 10 million tons of slurry over 100 square miles.

        Perhaps we can apply this sort of logic to nuclear waste? Instead of keeping it in storage, we could simply blow it out the smokestacks in trace amounts, much like what we do with the radioactive contaminants in coal?

      • I used to do ash analysis on coal samples - coal ash is pushing 95% silica and alumina.

        Says here it's as much as 30% alumina, depending on what's being burned. That sounds like a practically free feedstock for refining aluminum, though apparently something would have to be done besides the Bayer process. Oddly, that possibility is absent from the list of uses of coal ash. The alternative to the Bayer process must be difficult.

    • by hey! (33014)

      The oil that 'spilled' into the gulf in 2010 was a naturally occurring substance, as evidenced by how easily the environment dealt with it.

      OK, let's kill this "naturally occurring substances cannot be pollutants" meme.

      Arguably *every* substance is a naturally occurring substance. But even substances that are normally found in a habitat can be a pollutant if they enter that habitat in amounts that disrupt it. The classic example of CO2, which is a normal and necessary part of the atmosphere, but is toxic to humans at a rate of as low as 1000 ppm. What's more, moderately elevated levels of CO2 that humans would not notice change the behavior o

  • Johnstown? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:34PM (#46526803) Journal

    What about Johnstown, when a dam built by a railroad company collapsed, killing well over 2000 people. Yes, at the time the dam belonged to a club run by industrialists as a hunting and fishing preserve, but it was still an industrial accident.

  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:42PM (#46526891)

    You just hate freedom. You want to take away my right to pollute the atmosphere so badly that it causes massive socio-political upheaval s around the world completely re-ordering the geopolitical landscape , uniting our enemies and making new ones under a unified belief that THIS is what America did to us, unleashing waves of suicide terrorism both abroad and domestically, all fueled by the deaths of hundreds of millions of innocent people, and unified by the theme that "this (desertification, devastating ocean rise unsurvivable heat waves, crop failures and finally, the death of large ocean life as the acidification takes out the lowest levels of the oceanic food pyramid, causing all above to collapse - THIS is what America did to us".

    You just hate America and you're against freedom. That's all.

  • Is the biggest event really important, or is it more important to look at entire industries? Has coal in Appalachia been better or worse than gold mining in California? The gold mining contaminated many bodies of water with mercury, and fish are still unsafe because of it. How many streams and lakes in Tennessee have warnings like, "pregnant women should eat no more than one of these fish per month"?

    • The Raritan River in central New Jersey has signs like that. Except that the warning is addressed to all people, not just pregnant women. You don't need coal or gold to fuck up a waterway.

      What's even funnier is that, according to Wikipedia, this river "is an important source of drinking water for the central portion of New Jersey". Well, that explains why my tap water has a delicious flavor (I'm not joking).
  • And just like Global Warming, if you ignore it, there are no consequences!

    Hooray for human greed and hubris.

    • Although residents feared water contamination, early tests of water six miles (10 km) upstream of the ash flow showed that the public water supply met drinking water standards.

      The fuck? How does testing the water upstream prove anything whatsoever?

  • One billion gallons is about 10 billion pounds.

    There was 140,000 pounds arsenic in 10 billion pounds of sludge.

    Concentration of arsenic in sludge is 1.4 * 10e5 / 1e10 = 1.4 * 10e-5

    Or about 1 part in 100,000.

    This is why they got away with it. Coal ash sludge is nasty, but not quite nasty enough to be a hazardous substance per se. Hell, one of the best ways to get rid of it is to add it to concrete, which is then poured where people live.

    The figure you should worry about is the change in the arsenic level i

  • It is not "coal sludge." It's coal ash slurry.

    Did the OP even read the article? Even TFA refers to the flood as consisting of coal ash slurry.

    There is no such thing as "coal sludge," but there is "coal slurry" which is something entirely different from coal ash slurry that allows transport of coal through pipelines in a very expensive process.

  • How is this the worse industrial disaster in US history, compared with the Texas City Disaster [wikipedia.org] that killed 581 people, injured more than 5,000 people, and destroyed 500 homes, 1100 vehicles, and 362 rail cars due to an explosion of 2.9 kilotons TNT equivalent energy?

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.

Working...