For the past five years much of my work has focused around the social cost of producing energy in the USA. I continue to work in the Four Corners area of the Southwest on the Navajo Nation striving to photograph the true “cost” of using coal for the production of electricity. An on going project, Question of Power, shows the human condition as we mine, burn, and dispose of combustion waste using coal in the creation of electricity.
One part of the process which has received little notice is the combustion waste. In the burning of coal for the generating of electricity this is called “fly ash”. To date, fly ash is “unclassified” by the EPA and Federal Government. Current legislation may change that this year. If you do a little research you will quickly discover fly ash contains most of the toxic heavy metals which are left after the coal is burned. There are over 300 locations in the USA where this toxic material is simply placed in an outside pile.
On December 22, 2008 shortly before the Holidays, I caught a brief news flash regarding a “spill” of fly ash in Kingston, TN. at the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) coal burning electric generating plant. (My understanding is: the Kingston TVA Plant is the largest coal burning electric generating facility in the USA. The fly ash has been stored in an outside pond next to the river since 1954) With a little digging I found information stating 5.3 million cubic yards of “fly ash” had spilled into the Emory, Clinch, and Tennessee Rivers at Kingston, TN.. I thought it strange how it was down played in the news. Knowing fly ash is a highly toxic material this had the potential of being a major disaster.
A single look at my wife Nancy, she quickly said, “you need to go”. I drove to Kingston and spent eight days working there. I interviewed residents and photographed as much as possible. To be honest, TVA made it difficult to actually “photograph” the magnitude of the situation. The residents of the Swan Pond area I had the opportunity to meet openly shared their stories and concerns with me.
I plan to return to Kingston in the next few months and will give you an update.
Be strong, be safe, Carlan
Photographs: Carlan Tapp