Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016TN120B

Environmental Impacts of Coal Ash Spill on Nutrient Cycling and Surface Water Quality in Eastern Tennessee

Institute: Tennessee
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $9,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $18,189

Principal Investigators: Anna Szynkiewicz

Abstract: Coal ash is a waste product of coal burning in power plants to produce electricity. It contains verity of toxic metals that may contaminate locally surface waters used for drinking. Currently, there are 8 contaminated sites with coal ash disposal and 1 coal ash spill into surface water in Tennessee. However, research about environmental impacts of coal ash spills on the aquatic environment is still limited. Major objectives of this project are: 1) to evaluate water quality of Emory, Clinch and Tennessee rivers 8 years after the coal ash spill in Kingston, eastern Tennessee; 2) to determine if nutrient cycling via microbial sulfate reduction in the river bottom sediments can effectively immobilize toxic metals from coal ash spill due to formation of insoluble sulfides; 3) to determine changes of nutrient cycling (sulfur, carbon) in water column and sediments due to coal ash spill. Current contamination levels by toxic metals and impacts on nutrient cycling will be determined in the light of field and geochemical measurements that will include: pH, temperature, total dissolved solids, redox-oxidation potential, total dissolved oxygen, alkalinity, major cation and ion composition, and multiple sulfur-carbon-oxygen isotope analysis. This project has the potential to provide new, inexpensive, and relatively simple environmental tracers for state agencies and stakeholders in Tennessee and nationwide to evaluate the impacts of coal ash spills on surface water quality, nutrient cycling and metal bioremediation in contaminated sites.