Sampling began immediately following the spill and included drinking water, private wells, surface water, air quality, ash and soil. Results are analyzed by the Tennessee Department of Health laboratory, and the department consults Health to determine any potential health effects based on the results. Sample results are posted on the department’s TVA Kingston Update website.
Drinking Water – Ensuring a safe drinking water supply was an immediate priority for the state. TDEC began sampling both raw and finished water at the Kingston and Rockwood water treatment plants daily, then transitioned to weekly sampling, then monthly. All samples have continuously met public health standards.
Private Well Water – The department sampled more than 100 private wells in a four mile radius of the site for metals. Results have not indicated an exceedance of primary drinking water standards for metals. Three sentinel wells continue to be sampled quarterly in order to find any contaminants that could potentially migrate into private wells in the future.
Surface Water – TDEC sampled surface water at nine locations twice weekly in the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee Rivers. TVA sampled the same sites the other three days per week. This allowed the state to have an independent comparison of TVA’s sample results.
Metals levels were highest immediately following the release and whenever ash was re-suspended by dredging operations or high river flows. Generally, higher metals were observed to be associated with solids in water samples.
Air Quality – TDEC required TVA to take action to prevent ash from becoming airborne and potentially causing inhalation problems through aggressive dust control measures and robust monitoring. TVA maintains a perimeter air monitoring system for fine particulates, both PM10 and PM2.5. TDEC audits the TVA monitors and operates an independent PM 10 and TEOM monitor for fine particulates and metals monitoring.
Sample results for particulate matter indicate that air quality meets National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Lab analysis has detected some metals at very low levels. The Tennessee Department of Health has indicated these levels do not pose a health concern.
Soil and Ash – TDEC collected 13 ash samples and 16 soil samples from the plant and impacted properties.
None of the soil samples had levels of contaminants that presented either a short or long term health threat.
The ash contains some metals, including arsenic, and some radioactive materials of natural origin, which presented below human health risk criteria. The Dept. of Health concluded that while people should make every effort to avoid the ash as a precaution, if someone were to accidentally ingest or breathe it, the metals in the ash would not pose a health threat. Breathing ash, however, just like breathing any other dust or fine particle, can cause respiratory problems. Health also concluded that dermal contact can cause temporary irritation, much like sand.