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Medical evaluations reveal no adverse health effects caused by coal fly ash spill at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant

August 17, 2010

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — No adverse health effects were found among those Roane County residents who elected to participate in medical evaluations following the December 2008 fly ash spill at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant. Medical experts at Oak Ridge Associated Universities and Vanderbilt University Medical Center released their findings today. 

“Over an eight-month period, we conducted independent comprehensive evaluations of more than 200 residents who opted to undergo a medical evaluation at no cost to the resident,” said Donna Cragle, a Ph.D. epidemiologist and vice president of Occupational Exposure and Worker Health for ORAU. “The evaluation was available to any Roane County resident who had health concerns about the fly ash spill.”

At the time of the evaluation, the participants ranged in age from less than a year old to 89 years old. The majority of the population (56 percent) was between the ages of 18 and 65 and nearly equally divided between male and female. Approximately half of the participants lived within two miles of the spill.

Overall, the demographics of those participating in the evaluation process mirrored the demographics for the general Roane County population, with the exception that a higher number of participants were over the age of 65. This may be the result of a higher than average number of retirees living in the area.

The medical evaluation included health history, physical examination, a breathing test (spirometry), chest x-ray, routine urinalysis, complete blood count, blood chemistry and biological monitoring tests. 

Some residents initially reported symptoms related to upper airway irritation, such runny nose, cough and congestion. The physical examination conducted as part of the medical evaluation found that most participants were normal and that abnormalities or variations were due primarily to preexisting medical conditions.

Urine and/or blood tests were performed for levels of aluminum, arsenic, barium, beryllium, chromium, cobalt, copper, nickel, selenium, thallium and vanadium.  

“We chose these agents (with the exception of selenium and thallium) for testing because they were found to be in high concentrations in fly ash-contaminated soil as compared to non-fly ash-contaminated soil in Roane County,” said Dr. Cragle. “While selenium and thallium did not exceed regional background soil measurement, they were included in the screening due to their potential health risks.”

“Based on our medical evaluation and the current levels of exposure for these residents, we did not see any effects on their physical health,” said John Benitez, M.D., medical toxicologist at VUMC.

“Because there are no studies on the long-term health effects of fly ash exposure, results of the evaluation provide a valuable baseline for future medical evaluations,” said Dr. Cragle. “A repeat evaluation of the people who participated in the program could determine whether there has been any change in their health that may be related to the fly ash spill.”

The December 2008 spill at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant released approximately 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash.  TVA funded the independent health screening conducted by ORAU and VUMC.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) Tennessee Poison Center is a program of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a national leader in patient care, medical education, nursing education and research. Tennessee Poison Center is the statewide poison control center and the sixth busiest poison center in the U.S. 

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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