July 10th, 2009
04:22 PM ET

Coal ash sludge muddies waters

Program Note: Tune in to AC360º tonight at 10 P.M. ET to hear more from Erin Brockovich as she teams up with Dr. Sanjay Gupta to investigate a toxic oil spill endangering the health of the environment and the citizens of Kingston, Tennessee.

[cnn-photo-caption image="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/08/tennessee.sludge/art.house.wvlt.jpg" caption="Properties near ground zero of the December 22 Tennessee spill are covered in sludge. "]

Erin Brockovich
The Brockovich Report

It looks like I may be paying a visit to Tennessee. Numerous residents have asked me to come to the community for a meeting on the coal fly ash disaster around Knoxville, and I think I will be going.

I know the question on everyone's lips. What is coal fly ash, and why does it need to be contained? The folks around Knoxville are getting to know a lot more about coal fly ash than they ever wanted to learn.

Coal fly ash. It sounds like someone has been burning fly poop or airborne coal. But seriously, it is akin to the creosote that coated those chimneys and chimneysweep boys of Charles Dickens ancient London.

Fly ash comes from chimneys, specifically the chimneys of power plants. The collection point determines exactly what kind of ash it is. Fly ash apparently contains silicon dioxide and calcium oxide as well as trace concentrations of heavy metals. In other words, coal ash is nasty stuff to have floating around in your river, air, and drinking water.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Keeping Them Honest • Sanjay Gupta
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Paige Hurdle

    Good Lord…I live in Tennessee and although I am not close to this horrific occurrence, I am shocked that there has been little press about the “Largest industry spill in the world”.

    This is another perfect example of why we need to STOP using COAL as our primary energy source…I simply do not understand why this is such a challenge for everyone to understand. Does everyone have to die before Congress actually does anything? Where are you
    Al Gore?

    July 11, 2009 at 12:21 am |
  2. C.Taylor

    Well,I know you have a terrible disaster there.I am sick that people never stop to think about the people that live in Coal minning communities.We have to live in coal dust,rock dust,and diesel smoke 10 to 12 hours a day.All 3 cause several kinds of CANCER.Do a search on each one,you will see for your self.We have complained for years now with things only getting worse.We have all the dust floating in the air all the time,the furnace filters are covered with black.Why don't anyone in America care about the people who live in all the dangerous living condition's here in Eastern Ky.We have contacted every State and Federal agency we know of .Be Quit it's a way of life.Cancer in Eastern Kentucky is worse then anywhere in the United States.Help

    July 10, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  3. CF Tennessee

    It may be true that a volcano eruption puts out more ash than all of power plants, but a volcano eruption is a natural disaster. The fly ash disaster in east TN was a man-made disaster. No excuse!

    July 10, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    Big companies always take the easy cheap way out regardless of how much evidence is present to warn them of bad results. They rarely care about the impact to the "people". And unfortunatlely most people don't know that what the companies are doing can hurt them. It is only when you have an accident like this that the knowledge comes out about what was being done and what impact it can have. We can hope it prevents it from happening again.

    July 10, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  5. M Byrd Texas

    We should clean up all the power plants as we can, but not at the expense of our economy and people. One eruption from a volcano puts out more ash than all of the power plants. Keep your feet on the ground.

    July 10, 2009 at 5:55 pm |
  6. Tim Gibson

    Better late than never is an old song when it comes to environmental disaster created by man. Opps does not help those who are affected by this type of disaster and yes it is a disaster.

    What many people do not understand is where harzardous chemical waste ends up, is it in your water, on your clothing, in the air. Where are the dumping grounds and why do we have dumping gounds to begin with.

    July 10, 2009 at 4:54 pm |
  7. Jason

    In response to your poll – I don't care if Obama has a smoke now then, but let's encourage Disney to have his wax figure lighting up a Pall Mall for his big speech in the Hall of Presdents.

    July 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm |
  8. moussa diene

    Marwa al-Sherbini was stabbed at least 18 times in a courtroom in Dresden in front of her husband and three-year-old son.
    Why does no one talks about it in the news?

    July 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm |