This week TVA deliberately dumped massive amounts of toxic corporate waste matter into a shared public resource: America’s broadcast media. Why did the PR flacks who ooze around TVA’s headquarters give America such generous piles of steaming corporate lies for Christmas? Aside from the fact that’s what PR flacks do for a living, the well-paid professional liars on TVA’s payroll had an extra-special motive to stuff our Holiday stockings with deceit: TVA failed to construct dikes that actually worked. TVA’s professional liars had a bonus motive, as well: two months after the October 2008 annual inspection showed the dike had a "wet spot" indicating a leak, TVA’s crack inspectors hadn’t finished their formal inspection report. So last Sunday when the dike at TVA’s Kingston Plant leaked for the third time in six years, and TVA’s toxic wastes clogged the Emory River on their way to the Tennessee River (the Ohio River’s largest tributary), TVA was neck deep in apparent liability. For their emergency response, TVA trundled out the usual PR zombies to clog US media with bald-faced lies. So…what will TVA run out of first: toxic corporate PR, or toxic power plant coal waste?

Without knowing how much PR waste (and how many PR zombies) TVA has stockpiled along with their toxic coal wastes, we may never know the answer. If the size of TVA’s two Big Lies this week is any indication, the Carbon Lords from the Volunteer State have amassed vast stockpiles of first class Grade A PR sludge. TVA’s first Big Lie? TVA simply lied about the volume of the toxic waste spill. TVA’s second Big Lie? TVA lied when they claimed the public waterways contaminated with their toxic waste were "safe". Who knows what their PR zombies are concocting for the next Big Lie. At the rate they are going — and failing — I wouldn’t be surprise if for Big Lie # 3 they tell us what spilled into the river was actually reindeer muck from Santa’s stables.

Who could have anticipated yet another leak? Well, we can start with the neighbors.

One neighboring family said the disaster was no surprise because they have watched the 1960s-era ash pond’s mini-blowouts off and on for years.
[snip]

The area received almost 5 inches of rain this month, compared with the usual 2.8 inches. Freeze and thaw cycles may have undermined the sides of the pond. The last formal report on the condition of the 40-acre pond – an unlined, earthen structure – was issued in January and was unavailable Monday, officials said.

Neighbors Don and Jil Smith, who have lived near the pond for eight years, said that nearly every year TVA has cleaned up what they termed "baby blowouts."

Ashen liquid similar to that seen on a much larger scale in Monday’s disaster came from the dike, they said.

"It would start gushing this gray ooze," said Don Smith, whose home escaped harm. "They’d work on it for weeks and weeks.

"They can say this is a one-time thing, but I don’t think people are going to believe them."

The neighbors seem to have anticpated TVA’s PR lies, as well.

TVA’s first toxic PR concoction after the massive spill of poisonous fly ash from TVA’s Kingston Power Station was a real howler. You see, the toxic fly ash spill that poured off of TVA’s land didn’t come from the toxic waste fairy: the spill came out of TVA’s very own holding pond: the one with the leaky dikes. OK folks – how do we calculate the volume of the holding pond? Well, in my elementary school, we learned that volume is the result of multiplying

Height x Length x Depth

This obscure fact apparently escaped TVA’s crack PR zombies and their owners: the people who actually built the toxic fly ash holding pond. Ya see, even large construction projects actually measure the width and height and depth of the objects to be built. Amazingly enough, construction projects even have those numbers written on the plans. Assuming, of course, that TVA actually engineered the toxic ponds, rather than just sending out a bunch of guys out to make giant puddles with earth movers. All TVA’s brilliant leaders had to do was subtract the depth of toxic sludge remaining after the break from the depth of toxic sludge before the break, and then they could do the fourth-grade math required to produce the volume. Assuming, of course, TVA cared enough about public safety to keep watch of rising sludge levels in the pond during heavy rain. Even TVA didn’t try and lie about what the rain could do:

Tom Kilgore, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority [said]

"I fully suspect that the amount of rain we’ve had in the last eight to 10 days, plus the freezing weather … might have had something to do with this,"

The Tennessean tells us:

The area received almost 5 inches of rain this month, compared with the usual 2.8 inches. Freeze and thaw cycles may have undermined the sides of the pond.

So Tom — of course you’d given standing orders to monitor the sludge pond level during heavy rains? Uh, right, Tom? Ya see, Tom, that monitoring would let TVA tell the truth about about how much toxic coal waste now contaminates public waters. And that’s why your company’s bald-faced lie about the volume of toxic waste is such a howler. On Monday TVA claimed 360 million gallons of toxic sludge spilled. Then TVA doubled the estimate. On Friday TVA’s tripled the estimate: one billion gallons of toxic sludge. Don’t know how they got the new figures; perhaps Santa brought Tom a new set of measuring tapes for Christmas. However TVA managed to lowball the amount, only to triple it four days later, they appear to shore up crediblity about as well as they shore up dikes.

"There’s a lot of ash there," spokesman John Moulton said Friday.

No shit, John? Guess even a broken PR machine can let the truth seep out once a week. But two times, John? Guess that’s a truth too far.

TVA’s Big Lie # 2 about the Kingston Plant toxic spill was so big even the New York Times choked on it.

A TVA news release Wednesday said there was no threat to the environment from the breach at the plant near Harriman along the Emory River, which joins the Clinch River and flows into the main Tennessee River.

However, environmentalists have blasted TVA for what they say was something completely avoidable. Hundreds of fish were floating dead downstream from the plant Tuesday, and state and federal agencies have yet to complete water quality testing. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Laura Niles said some toxic metals could be in the muck, including mercury and arsenic.

In addition to the heavy metals, the fly ash is heavily contaminated with incredibly powerful toxins comprised largely of carbon atoms. Coal has a lot of carbon atoms. In chemspeak, the universe of molecules is divided into two realms: those that do contain carbon, and those that don’t. Molecules in the carbon realm are called "organic"; the carbon-free realm is called "inorganic".

Who cares?

Carbon atoms that form into rings make flat little molecule pancakes: one group of molecule pancakes slip right between the rungs on our DNA ladders, effectively altering the way the affected genetic code "reads". The result acts like a mutation in our DNA code.

Other carbon molecule "pancakes" are composed of multiple rings of carbon atoms (and sometimes other atoms) connected side-to-side. These multiple rings of carbon are called "polycyclic". One family of polycyclic molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH to their friends), does a great job of causing humans to have cancer, mutations, and developmental abnormalities.

Many carbon molecules formed into rings are quite durable: the most toxic are part of the POP family of carbon molecules: Persistent Organic Pollutants. This band of toxins also includes very potent substances known as dioxins.

Burning coal produces dioxins, PAHs, and other POPs. These molecules can (and do) cause disasterous effects for humans (as at Seveso in Italy) in vanishingly small quantities. Many of the POPs also mimic our bodies’ hormones. As adults, we rely on hormones to make whoopie. In utero and while we are growing up, our bodies also rely on hormone signals to guide the proper growth of our brains and reproductive systems….both necessary for us to grow up and make whoopee. The molecules (like many POPs) created outside our bodies that fool our bodies’ hormone receptors are called "endocrine disruptors": they mess up our hormonal (endocrine) systems.

The current rapid increases in fertility problems, rapid falls in sperm counts, and steadily rising rates of reproductive cancers appear to result, at least in part, from the false signals POPs send to our bodies. Research also suggests that some endocrine disruptors may be causing much of the apparent increase in behavioral disturbances and cognitive problems in children: these problems result from false signals causing abnormal brain "wiring".

Though dioxin can cause rapid and obvious injuries (like chloracne), much of the damage POPs, PAH’s, and dioxin cause in us unfolds over years and even decades. Some of the toxic effects show up in the offspring (and perhaps grandkids) of the people originally exposed.

The Kingston power plant ash spill washed POP’s, PAH’s and dioxins into the watersupply for everyone downstream. Given that "Hundreds of fish were floating dead downstream from the plant Tuesday, and state and federal agencies have yet to complete water quality testing.", TVA’s safety assurances on Wednseday, December 24 are just shy of delusional.

Hope Santa left a big lump of fly ash in TVA’s Christmas stocking.

Even completed testing can’t give the contaminated water a clean bill of health. Some POP’s are known — others have yet to be identified. Neither TVA nor the EPA can truthfully say we are "safe" from toxic organic molecules they don’t yet know to look for.

The precautionary principle suggests that kids, preganant women, and those who could ever become pregnant don’t drink from water supplies downstream from the Kingston spill. Of course, we’ve already dumped so many toxins in the Mississippi watershed that my physician friends who understand just how potent these toxins are don’t consume tap water drawn from the lower Mississippi.

Lisa Evans, a Massachusetts attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said similar spills have happened in Pennsylvania and Georgia and blamed the industry and lack of federal regulation.

”The saddest thing is this is entirely avoidable,” Evans said. ”These people in these communities don’t have to be in harm’s way. This is not some complicated problem like nuclear waste. This is something the utilities know how to do.”

Looks like the TVA skipped class the day the other utilities learned how to build ponds. Enough to make you wonder whether a utility too incompetent to master building skills known to ancient Rome could be trusted to use a blowtorch, much less massive coal-fired power plants. About the only thing worse would be allowing TVA to construct and operate nuclear plants.

The board of the Tennessee Valley Authority announced today that Steven A. White, the man who was hired to restart the agency’s troubled and much-criticized nuclear program, would leave the agency in November.

Mr. White, a retired admiral and veteran of the nuclear Navy, had spent the last two and a half years as the T.V.A.’s nuclear power manager.

He was hired to bring the agency’s two completed but closed plants – one has now reopened – and six uncompleted plants up to safety standards after Federal regulators termed the plants among the ”worst” in the country.

But hey – why worry? TVA may not know how to build ponds or dikes or nuclear plants, but we can believe their PR, right? Lucky us: the PR flacks tell us everything’s OK. After all, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You. So good that fly ash from power plants is deliberately spread on some croplands. Just like the yummy toxic sludge from sewage plants the EPA says is safe to spread on our crops. Fortunately, the same trusty ‘ol EPA tells us fly ash isn’t even hazardous waste.

What, me worry?

Bon Appetit.