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Erin Brockovich hopes to help residents near coal sludge spill

  • Story Highlights
  • Environmental activist says people affected by coal sludge spill feel misled
  • Brockovich plans to meet with residents Thursday and Friday to discuss concerns
  • Residents show her pictures of fly ash piled up two feet high
  • "I don't think TVA can move fast enough to possibly satisfy these people," she said
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(CNN) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich was in Kingston, Tennessee, on Thursday to speak with residents affected by a massive spill of coal sludge from a nearby coal-fired plant.

The same area is clean and tranquil in an image from before the spill.

Properties near ground zero of the December 22 Tennessee spill are covered in sludge.

Brockovich said many people in the community told her they don't feel they've been told the truth about the December 22 spill that occurred after a retention wall was breached at the Kingston Fossil Plant.

She quoted citizens as saying they don't get satisfactory answers or they get inconsistent answers when they call the the plant's owner, Tennessee Valley Authority.

"They don't have the answers and they're very, very concerned," Brockovich said. "So we're here to address all of that and begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together."

Brockovich, who said she was invited to the community by residents, planned to meet with them Thursday night. A public meeting is scheduled for Friday night. She hopes people will come to the meetings and air their concerns. She said she will tour the site on the ground and from the air.

Brockovich gained fame after the 2000 release of the movie bearing her name. It told the story of how she, as a file clerk at a law firm, established that a toxic chemical from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company's compressor station leaked into the groundwater of a nearby town, compromising the health of hundreds, according to a biography posted on Brockovich's Web site.

In 1996, the company paid the largest toxic tort settlement in U.S. history -- $333 million -- to more than 600 Hinkley residents, the Web site said.

About 1.1 billion gallons of sludge, or ash mixed with water, spilled onto 300 acres from the plant located 40 miles west of Knoxville, Tennessee. That is enough sludge to fill 1,660 Olympic-size swimming pools. Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal.

Brockovich said residents have sent her photos showing fly ash up to 2 feet deep in places. She said citizens are worried about contact with the fly ash, including its impact on the water supply.

Last week, authorities said drinking water in the area was potable, although samples of ash near the site showed "elevated levels" of arsenic. Leslie Sims, the Environmental Protection Agency on-scene coordinator, said the Tennessee Valley Authority is addressing the issue.

"I don't think TVA can move fast enough to possibly satisfy these people," said Brockovich, noting that she hasn't spoken with anyone from the TVA.


TVA, the nation's largest public utility, promised to do whatever it takes to clean the spill in central Tennessee.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen promised state government will keep a close watch on TVA's cleanup.

All About Tennessee Valley AuthorityTennesseeAccidents and DisastersNature and the Environment

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