Cohen Wants Answers on Water Contamination

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Ninth District Representative Steve Cohen wants more information from state officials on the discovery of high levels of arsenic and lead found near the Allen Fossil Plant.

In May, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) discovered arsenic levels in some wells around the energy plant were more than 300 times higher than federal drinking water standards. Lead levels there were also higher than federal safety standards.

The contaminated water is a quarter mile from the TVA’s five new wells drilled into the Memphis Sand Aquifer, the source of Memphis’ drinking water. Those wells will pump water from the aquifer to cool a new natural gas energy plant that will soon replace the coal-burning Allen plant.

Memphis Light, Gas, & Water (MLGW) officials said the nearest drinking-water pumping station is two miles away from the Allen plant. Also, MLGW officials said they are testing the water around the pumping station to be sure wells there aren’t contaminated.

The toxins were found in wells drilled to monitor pollution from nearby ponds containing slag and ash generated by the plant's coal-burning activities. TVA officials reported the findings to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

Since then, TVA, TDEC, and Memphis Light Gas & Water officials have said the high levels of toxins in the well likely won’t contaminate the city’s drinking water. Officials with the local branch of the Sierra Club and the Protect Our Aquifer group contend that the contamination could spread into the water source.

Cohen, in a letter to TDEC Commission Robert Martineau, said he was concerned about the findings and wanted to know how TDEC reached its conclusion that the contaminants are not impacting the water source. He also wanted to know what TVA and TDEC are doing to prevent drinking-water contamination and how they will ensure the Memphis Sand Aquifer remains a viable source of drinking water.

Ward Archer, president of Protect Our Aquifer, said his group suspected the water beneath the plant was contaminated “but this is even worse than we imagined.”

“TVA’s plan to pump Memphis Sand Aquifer water from beneath this contaminated site is irresponsible and endangers our drinking water supply,” said Archer in a Facebook post. “These contamination findings reinforce our commitment to encourage TVA to find an alternative cooling water solution, and we will continue to protect our drinking water aquifer by supporting scientific investigation, raising public awareness, working with our elected officials, and if necessary, initiating additional legal action.”

Ward Archer is a minority stockholder in Contemporary Media, Inc., the company that publishes the Memphis Flyer.


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