In December 2008, an ash dike at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant burst, spilling roughly 2 million cubic yards of fly ash. The slurry of coal waste traveled down nearby rivers, destroying homes and wiping out infrastructure.
“You have the materials from mining put into these containment ponds, which are very toxic because they just sit there because nobody knows what to do with them,” Black said. “Those coal communities that spend their lives working the mines, possibly getting black lungs, possibly dying in the mines, then are faced with this kind of outcome where their ecology is permanently ruined.”
In January 2009, results from preliminary tests conducted at Appalachian State University showed that were elevated levels of toxic metals found in samples from the slurry. That May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the agency was proposing “the first-ever national rules to assure the safe management and disposal of coal ash.”