COLBERT COUNTY, Ala. (WZDX) - The Tennessee Valley Authority is being sued by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. In the suit filed April 12th, ADEM claims that the Colbert Fossil Plant, located in Colbert County, is responsible for leaking numerous chemicals into the Tennessee River.
The suit shows that ADEM began looking into procedures at the Colbert Fossil Plant back in 1985 after reports that the companies coal ash ponds were leaking into the Cane Creek, a tributary of the Tennessee River.
The company burns coal to provide power, and then the residual ash is dumped into ponds on the property. This is where the chemicals. such as arsenic and mercury, are allegedly being leaked.
"Our samples showed contamination of Cane Creek included elevated levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, selenium, cadmium, and iron as well as other toxins," said David Whiteside, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Riverkeeper, a non-profit conservation group that has been investigating the water contamination for more than a year.
"The contaminants are settling to the bottom and eventually seeping out," he explained.
His group, along with Shoals Environmental Alliance, Southern Environmental Law Center, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Waterkeeper Alliance, was ready to file suit themselves before ADEM stepped in. He says the timing is odd since ADEM has known about the violations for decades.
"The Alabama Department of Environmental Management knew about this illegal pollution coming out of the TVA Fossil Plant for some time and chose not to do anything about it until Riverkeeper came in and filed our notice of intent to sue and started pointing out these illegal violations to the public."
According to the suit, ADEM ordered the company to monitor their groundwater contamination and report the findings back in 1992. In 2010, it was found that the TVA company had caused or allowed pollutants into the water.
"The Department ordered that Defendant conduct a groundwater quality assessment to include the installation of monitoring wells and preparation of a groundwater quality monitoring plan. On April 30, 2010, an Alabama Risk-Based Corrective Action Evaluation identified a dormant metal cleaning pond at Colbert as a significant source of contamination to groundwater."
The lawsuit asks for civil penalties to be levied against the company and asks that the company take the necessary measures to make sure that the pollution stops.
TVA responded to the lawsuit Wednesday via a written statement which reads:"TVA is aware of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management lawsuit and we continue to work with ADEM to assess and improve TVA's management of coal ash storage at the Colbert Fossil Plant near Tuscumbia, Ala. TVA has invested more than $12 million in Colbert ash pond enhancements designed to protect local groundwater, with plans to completely convert to dry ash storage in the future."
Whiteside says this is not just about whether or not the company is breaking the law by violating the Clean Water Act; it's about the health of the people in the community.
"We are concerned that these toxins are indeed making it into the Pickwick Reservoir and we are concerned for public health, this is a citizen issue. The citizens depend on Pickwick Reservoir for drinking water in Colbert County."