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Effects of Sediment Containing Coal Ash from the Kingston Ash Release on Embryo-Larval Development in the Fathead Minnow, Pimephales promelas (Rafinesque, 1820)


The largest environmental release of coal ash in US history occurred in December 2008 with the failure of a retention structure at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant in East Tennessee. A byproduct of coal-burning power plants, coal ash is enriched in metals and metalloids such as selenium and arsenic with known toxicity to fish embryonic and larval life stages. The early development of fish embryos and larvae during contact exposures to river bottom sediments containing up to 78 % coal ash from the Kingston spill was examined in 7-day laboratory tests with the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas). No significant effects were observed in hatching success, incidences of developmental abnormalities, or embryo-larval survival. Results suggest that direct exposures to sediment containing residual coal ash from the Kingston ash release may not present a significant risk to fish eggs and larvae in waterways affected by the coal ash spill.

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This study was sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Colleagues who contributed included S. Marshall Adams, Gail Morris, Mark Peterson, Jay Tenney, and Kristin Ward of ORNL; Neil Carriker and Tyler Baker of TVA; and Daniel Jones of ARCADIS. ORNL is managed by UT Battelle, LLC, for the US Department of Energy under Contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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Correspondence to Mark S. Greeley Jr..

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Greeley, M.S., Elmore, L.R., McCracken, M.K. et al. Effects of Sediment Containing Coal Ash from the Kingston Ash Release on Embryo-Larval Development in the Fathead Minnow, Pimephales promelas (Rafinesque, 1820). Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 92, 154–159 (2014).

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  • Coal ash
  • Toxicity
  • Fish
  • Early life stages
  • Selenium
  • Teratogenicity
  • Mercury