Jul 17, 2017

Tennessee Investigates Chemicals Found in Groundwater

Arsenic, lead and other chemicals were detected in groundwater testing wells at coal ash ponds

Tennessee removes chemicals from groundwater near Memphis

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and state and local leaders responded to unsafe levels of chemicals found in Memphis-area groundwater. They are working together to determine how unsafe the levels of several chemicals are. In May, TVA workers found arsenic, lead and other chemicals in a groundwater testing wells at coal ash ponds next to the TVA’s Allen Fossil Station, which is within two miles of both the Memphis sand aquifer and the Memphis Light, Gas and Waster Division’s (MLGW) Davis pumping station.

State and environmental leaders are trying to determine how chemicals—some hundreds of times above standard level—made it into groundwater wells at the Allen Fossil Station plant, which sits next to McKellar lake. 

"Arsenic levels of that magnitude are very unusual to find near coal ash,” said Scott Brooks, TVA. "It's also very unusual to find something like fluoride and lead, because those are not commonly found in coal ash, so there are a lot of questions.” 

That coal ash is residue set aside from coal burnt for energy in the nearly 60-year old facility. 

Brooks said it could take months to find out the source of the contamination. Based on that, state environmental leaders could order follow-up protections. 

State and county officials said they're confident the contaminants found in this area do not impact drinking water, but MLGW is doing follow up water tests to be extra sure. Even though the plant sits above the Memphis sand aquifer and two miles from a MLGW water pumping station, the contamination is not believed to impact the water local residents drink and use every day.

"The water that was tested with the extremely elevated levels is not drinking water, it is groundwater. It is not water coming from our deep aquifer,” said Helen Morrow, Shelby County Health Department.

MLGW is expected to get results from the follow up water tests late next week.