Ten months after millions of cubic yards of coal ash spilled from a Tennessee Valley Authority dam, Gary Topmiller and his wife, Pam, said they are trapped in their home across the Emory River from the site and “living in hell.”
Topmiller was among several people who spoke to reporters about their problems since Dec. 22, when a breach in an earthen dike at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant sent 5.4 million cubic yards of ash into the Emory River and onto private property.
The TVA spokesperson said hundreds of damage claims have been filed and numerous lawsuits and they are being dealt with individually.
TVA officials said they expect to get the ash out of the river by spring but the total cleanup, projected to cost $1 billion, is expected to take years.
Topmiller, 60, said his wife’s eyes have been swollen shut for months since the spill and they both “have been coughing and hacking.” He said visitors complain of headaches and birds and small wild animals have been dying in his yard.
Topmiller said recent medical tests showed him with “off-the-chart levels of lead, mercury and aluminum” in his body.
“I’d be out of here in a heartbeat,” he said. “I had a contractor come in here and tell me what it would cost to replace my house. I don’t want a dollar more. I told them I am not losing money just because you guys screwed up the environment. They said take it or leave it.”
TVA has pledged $43 million to Roane County to repair its economy and image. A panel of local officials and TVA representatives decided to set aside $32 million for county school buildings. Almost all the rest will go to roads, sewers, library improvements and turning an old movie house into an arts center.
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