News Feature | September 6, 2017

Memphis Contends With Lead, Arsenic Contamination

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

electricity reg new

Memphis residents are worried about their tap water following the discovery of contamination in groundwater near a coal ash storage facility.

“Recent contamination (above the legal drinking limit) of lead and arsenic [was] found in two of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) shallow monitoring wells. They’re about 50 feet below ground at the TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant,” which is located in Memphis, WREG reported.

TVA, the federally owned electric utility, is still studying the problem.

“Now we’re in the process of identifying that level of contamination and figuring out what to do with it," said Scott Brooks of TVA public relations, per the report.

The concerns arose, in large part, from samples to monitoring well No. 203.

“It was mainly from this well situated between a coal-ash pond and McKellar Lake that the Tennessee Valley Authority recently discovered astronomical and unprecedented levels of arsenic, along with lead and other contaminants, in shallow groundwater,” The Commercial Appeal reported.

“The finding has prompted a major, two-pronged environmental investigation at TVA's 58-year-old Allen Fossil Plant in Southwest Memphis, site of the coal-ash pond,” the report said.

TVA is installing “a network of wells” to study the contamination. The University of Memphis and the U.S. Geological Survey are pitching in. One goal is to understand how the Memphis Sand aquifer, a local drinking source, may be affected, the report said.

TVA says it will not use new wells drilled into the aquifer until it finishes its investigation and proves there is no risk to drinking water, Memphis Flyer reported.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is also investigating the contamination, according to Local Memphis.

Environmentalists are concerned about the threat TVA activity poses to the aquifer.

"Operating wells close by contamination sources poses a threat to our aquifer, because we know that there are places down along the riverfront where the meandering of the river has cut holes in the clay layer that protect our aquifer from pollution above,” said Scott Banbury, a conservationist with the Sierra Club, per Local Memphis.

Image credit: "Electricity pylons in a winter landscape," © 2007 allispossible.org.uk, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/