UPDATE: The spill is twice as big as I first reported here. Check out all the latest updates here.

A 40 acre pond filled with water and fly ash, a residue left over from coal burning, burst on Monday in Harriman, Tennessee leaving an area more than 400 acres covered in up to six feet of toxic sludge water. The total volume was 2.6 million cubic yards, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill. This is a giant disaster.

The Tennessee Valley Authority reported that a containment pond at their Kingston coal powered steam plant burst early Monday morning, sending a torrent of water and fly ash into the nearly town of Harriman and Watts Bar Lake. There have been no immediate injuries, though a local mans house was destroyed when it was pushed 30 feet of its foundation by the flood and 12 other homes were flooded.

The cleanup will take weeks and months but it's probable that the entire area will feel the results of the flood for decades to come. Fly ash contains all sorts of toxic chemicals, many of which also leeched out into the water now covering 400 acres of fields, streets, homes, and farms. The area will be declared a Federal Superfund site.

This is one of the many problems with coal- every step of it's life has an associated harm or serious potential harm. We rip down entire mountains to get at it or kill the men who dig it up miles beneath the ground through neglect or sheer probability. We cart it around the world on diesel trains and trucks to power plants where we burn it up, releasing CO2 and other pollutants into the air. And then, just when we think we're done, the left over fly ash is thrown into a poorly built retaining pond where it sometimes gushes out its poison upon an unsuspecting neighboring town.

War is not peace, freedom is not slavery, and coal is not clean. It never will be.

Treehugger has a helicopter flyby video:  

Link [Knoxville News Sentinel] via [Sierra Club] Map of Harriman, Tennessee 

Shea Gunther is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.

Toxic coal ash pond bursts and floods Tennessee town
A Tennessee town is left with an area more than 400 acres covered in up to six feet of toxic sludge water.