The Allen Fossil Plant, just south of President’s Island in Memphis, warranted a new investigation by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) pertaining to water quality concerns. Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) brought the issue to light with Senate Joint Resolution 29, which calls for the removal of coal ash at the plant.

Among the most polluted landfill sites in the United States, the arsenic-filled ponds of the Allen Fossil Plant are kept separate from the Memphis Sand aquifer by a clay barrier. The aquifer is held to high standards and provides some of the purest drinking water in the country. Tennessee and the TVA are launching an expensive investigation to ensure it remains that way.

Daniel Larsen, Chair of Earth Sciences at the University of Memphis, has studied the plant in the past. He said the plant’s current state is not an immediate threat, but the public’s concern would be addressed at an open forum at the main library in Memphis that organized yesterday. 

“The TVA is in the process of a long remediation plan to remove as much hazard to groundwater as they can,” Larsen said. “We are investigating the potential for migration off-site but we won’t know for quite some time, but I believe we have quite some time before imminent danger, if there is any.

Larsen said he does not believe either the plant or dangerous toxins found there could migrate and become a threat for another 80 to 100 years. He also said the water provided by MLGW, whose services include cities and towns like Collierville and Millington, is of excellent quality.

As of March 2019, MLGW concluded that none of the aquifer production wells have signs of arsenic. According to the UofM Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research’s analysis, it would take over 40 years for arsenic to travel to where it would effect groundwater or wells.

“When it comes to water quality, I think the problem is more at the surface,” Larsen said. “For example, I wouldn’t recommend swimming in the Mississippi River.”

While not as concerning as unclean drinking water, surface water pollution is a problem. Raised arsenic levels near the Allen Fossil Plant have caused concern since 2017 according to a University of Memphis CAESER study. In 2019, the TVA documented the location of a likely breach in the clay barrier protecting the aquifer, but it did not result in arsenic migration.

The plant will be further investigated by the TVA and CEASER. One UofM student shared his opinion on Memphis water and the recent concerns surrounding its cleanliness.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never had a problem with the water,” said Melvin Campbell, senior at the UofM. “Stuff like this happens all across the world so it was only a matter of time before Memphis got a scare like this, but I feel like it would get resolved.”

Campbell said although Memphis can be slow when it comes to city-wide communication, he has confidence that if there ever was a problem with water, the city would resolve it in a timely and efficient way.

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