(CNN) — The Tennessee community that was buried under more than a billion gallons of coal sludge is getting $40 million from the nation’s largest public utility for economic development projects.
However, some say the cash from the Tennessee Valley Authority is for nothing more than a facelift for Roane County, and argue it will do little to address their environmental and medical concerns.
The enormity of the December spill at TVA’s power plant in Kingston was unprecedented, with enough waste to fill nearly 800 Olympic-size swimming pools. The sludge, a byproduct of the ash from coal combustion, coated some 300 acres — a bigger area than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The $40 million is set up to pay for projects — such as improvements to infrastructure and recreation — “so we can help improve quality of life,” said TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci on Monday.
But some residents of the area 35 miles west of Knoxville aren’t buying it. “Initially, it looks like a good deal,” said Sarah McCoin, who lives about a mile from the spill site. “In reality, you have a situation that will only be politically correct.”
Residents are afraid of the chemicals that were released into the environment: arsenic, selenium, lead and radioactive materials including chromium and barium. They say fly ash is still visible in the air, and many complain of medical issues the believe are linked to the disaster, ranging from headaches to respiratory ailments.
–CNN’s Stephanie Smith contributed to this report.