Hurricane Katrina Disaster versus the TVA`s Kingston Ash Spill

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HurricaneKatrina Disaster versus the TVA`s Kingston Ash Spill

AnOverview of the Hurricane Katrina

TheHurricane is referred as one of the most deadly ever hurricanes tohit the States. It led to the loss of about one thousand, eighthundred and thirty-three people with millions of others were leftwithout homes along the New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The disastercaused a damage of about a hundred and eight billion dollars and wasranked the sixth in the overall recorded hurricanes in the Atlanticin terms of strength (Henry,2012).The maximum wind stretch of the storm which was recorded was a rangeof forty-six to fifty-five kilometers, extending to a width of ahundred and thirty-eight kilometers.

TheOverview of TVA’S Ash Spillage

Thespillage occurred in 2008 when the retention walls of an ash pondcollapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority plant in Kingston whichis located in Harriman. The results were the release of watercombined with ashes which flooded twelve homes, spilling to thenearby Watts Bar Lake. The spillage caused a wreck of a train andcontaminated water in Emory River. The materials covered about fourhundred acres of the adjacent land. The aftermath of the project ledto severe environmental consequences which amounted to a fish stockfrom the water sources to die and float down the stream from thelocation of the plant. The water from Emory River and Watts Bar Lakewere contaminated with high levels of lithium and lead (Roane,2013).This disaster released about five and a half cubic millions of wastewhich were contained in the yard of the company.

Thispaper seeks to discuss the similarities and differences of ethicalengineering issues which happened before the occurrence of HurricaneKatrina disaster and TVA’s Kingston disaster of the ash spill. Someof the discussed issues include the construction, design and thetechnical management of the grounds where the disasters occurred.

TheContrast of the Ethical Issues

TheHurricane Katrina was experienced as a result of ethical engineeringissues which surrounded the disaster. The stability of canal projectdiffered from one location to another. However, the situation at theStreet Canal failure was general. The levees running from the northto south alongside the canal are made up of clay soils with layers ofmarsh material. This material also lies over a layer of lacustrineclay followed by a beach of sand deposit (Kolibaetal.,2012).Walls of steel sheets which were reinforced by concrete were electedseveral feet above the levee to fasten their protection. In theconstruction of the canal, the conservative estimates of the strengthof the soils were not considered. The geotechnical report depictedthat a very wide scatter in the value of the shear strength. Thevalues were indicators of errors in the sampling, drilling andtesting procedures. The initial engineers did not only failed inusing the conservative strengths of soil for the analysis but also inaccounting for the inadequacy of the weak soils in supporting theembankment. In the TVA’S Kingston ash spill, the assessment of theroot cause established that the TVA lacked the expertise to run andmaintain a coal ash storage facility. The report also concluded thatthe maintenance engineers were not adequately trained to maintain thestorage facility. These engineering ethical issues jeopardized theoperations of the storage facility. The poor maintenance coupled withpoor management of the plant led to the ash spillage disaster. Thedesign and the location of the plant are also considered amiscalculation on the part of the engineering. The plant was situatednear several resources, notably the Dan River. The river has severaldams which are located in between the spill site and the KerrReservoir (Mileti,2013).These extended the effects of the spillage, where the ash wastransported to almost seventy miles by the flowing water of RiverDan. The location of the plant could have incorporated the effect ofa possible threat such as the spillage. The threat could have beenintegrated during the construction of the facility to accommodate theconsequences of a threat.

Theinvestigation proved that the embankments which were constructed wereunstable. The analysts jointly confirmed that all the levees failedat different perspectives of engineering. Rensselaer PolytechnicInstitute carried out a centrifuge test on the levees and found outthe failure of levees along a horizontal plane near the lacustrinelayer of clay. This resulted in the walls moving downstream due tothe pressure which had accumulated as a result of water rising in thecanal. As a result, gaps developed between the walls and the leveesembankment (Henry,2012).The engineering techniques of the construction of TVA plant isquestionable. Retaining walls were constructed on top of the ash atthe plant. From a very general point of view, the engineers wereengaged in an extremely dangerous project based on many assumptionsof safety. The saturation of the ash beneath was in itself apotential threat of explosion, which was attached to perilousconsequences. The construction of retention facility on top of theash undoubtedly exerted a lot of pressure on the already potentialthreat of the ash beneath. This could be considered as a deliberateaction of the management and the engineers to develop a potentialthreat to the TVA working conditions and the environment at large.This amounted to the violation of engineering ethics which requiresthe engineers to act professionally when executing their duties totheir clients (Harriset al., 2013).The engineers who designed these projects did not adhere to theethics since they acted unprofessionally in the implementation ofthese projects.

Inthe occurrence of Hurricane Katrina, a review confirmed that therewas a lot of errors and confusion in the whole project ofconstructing the 17TH Street Canal. It was revealed that two separatebenchmarks were used in the construction of the levee system. It wasalso observed that in some cases, different levels of benchmarks wereused in the construction of the system. Water levels were expressedagainst one of the benchmarks and the height of the levee againstanother benchmark. In the whole project, it was also observed thatthere was no uniformity in the effort of assessing the subsidence ofthe systems of the levee or even the component of the systems. Theproject emphasized only on the construction of the levee to thepredetermined heights without considering the corresponding elevationof the water, measured from the same base. The project also did notconsider if the proceeding subsidence and settlement could have madethe predetermined levels of the levee to be irrelevant. In the TVA’SKingston ash spill the disaster occurred mainly, as a resultnegligence and assumption of risk emanating from the management(Roane,2013).The management of the ash spill was considered of low priority to themanagement of the TVA Kingston. The engineering consultancy firms,AECOM Technology Corporation, that were contracted to conduct theassessment of the spillage recommended the slimes layer as the causeof the spillage. Another firm, Marshall Miller concluded that otherfactors besides the slime could have caused the spillage.

Thehurricane protection system in the Katrina disaster was considered tobe idol systems since their presence was a good as their absence. Theplanning and designs of the systems were confused by short-termeffects and political considerations over an extended period. Therational planning and other fundamental issues were not addressed.The initial design was based on the standard project hurricane whichtransformed over time as the city experience more hurricanes (Kolibaet al., 2012).Little efforts were put in place to address the corresponding risks.This was also a question at stake on the ethical issues on theengineering of this project. A standard engineering project shouldconsider the long-term safety of a project at the question, an aspectthat the construction of the canal did not encompass. This was aviolation of the ethical standards of engineering, which obligatesthe professionals in this field to act in a manner that goes beyondwhat the public would require (Harriset al., 2013).The engineers who designed the construction of the canal must havehad a knowledge of the possible risks that the project was facing andtherefore should have considered the appropriate measures in curbingthe intensity of the threats. This aspect was not featured in theproject, and it indicated the failures on the engineering part of theproject. On the other hand, the TVA disaster was considered more ofnegligence rather than an accident. The TVA had a culture that theirfossil fuel plant was as result of their legacy. This attitudeimpacted on the manner in which the plant treated the coal ash. Theash was considered as garbage and a form of landfill rather that apotential hazard, which possessed a threat to the public. Theengineering issues in this context were at stake since the engineersin the plant could have given the appropriate advice on the disposalof the ash. The design of this plant also could have incorporated atreatment unit, where the ashes could have been sterilized beforebeing disposed of. An analysis of the root cause of the disaster inthe TVA’s plant also revealed that the plant used inadequatestructures in the management of ash and also used the skills ofuntrained people in conducting the inspections of the facility. Itwas also established that the plant did not have adequate proceduresand policies to manage the ashes waste. In addition, it was revealedthat the engineers of this plant were not present in the site duringmost of the times when the project was being constructed.

Theplans for prevention against the Hurricane Katrina were notresponsive to emergencies. The constructions were poorly designed,dysfunctional and disorganized. These made the rescue and recoveryeffort to be dominated by confusion and disorganization, whichprobably increased the consequences of the hurricane. The engineeringof the constructions of facilities such as the 17th Street Canal didnot stand the test of credibility. The engineers could have developeda mechanism for coping with emergency situations and means forrecovery. In considering the ash spillage at TVS plant, there wereenough signals of the threat which included a series of internalfailure of the walls for over an hour, later blew out causing thedisaster. In most of the engineering designs, alternative mechanismsare developed as a backup of the main system in case of a failure(Roane,2012).The time of the threat was fairly enough to develop mitigationmeasure of the disaster, but the engineering of the construction ofthe plant did not offer an alternative mechanism to the threat.

Similaritiesof the Disasters

Boththe Katrina and TVA disasters had prior notice of the impendingdangers, but the engineering techniques did not provide for measuresto curb the threats. A lot of information had been provided prior tothe occurrence of the hurricane. Immediately after the foundation ofthe city, it experienced a hurricane, and the original settler almostabandoned the place (Kolibaetal.,2012).It was expected that the next settlers would develop adequatemeasures including a response to emergency situations but theengineering issues in designing the settlement did not consider thesesituations. In comparison, the TVA project had adequate warnings on apossible spillage of the ash and bursting of the walls. Themanagement of the plant was also supplied with the adequatecorrective measure. These warnings were given over an extended periodof time, which was enough for the management to develop therecommended measures. The needs for safety precautions were evident,and the TVA had to improvise the ash ponds. However, due tonegligence, TVA resorted to assuming the recommended measures. Thisassumption could have resulted from wrong advice which was given bythe engineering department. The plant was criticized for relying onand using the skills of untrained personnel who offered theinspection and maintenance of the facility (Roane,2013).If TVA could have contracted the services of adequately trainedengineers, the disaster could have been averted since the engineerscould have advised the management of the plant to adopt the accuratemeasures that the danger posed.

Bothdisasters involved negligence of crucial technical procedure inconstruction. In the Katrina Hurricane, the economic importance ofthe Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Morgan City facilitated theconstruction of a system of levees over time to keep the MississippiRiver on its bed and to control flooding. The project of the leveesystem was a complex one because it had to accommodate flooding fromthe river and also from the storms which frequently blew from theGulf of Mexico (Henry,2012).In addition, the city of New Orleans lies between the river to thenorth and the south. The newly inhabited region to the north wasexposed to flooding from the lake. The engineering technics ofprotecting the newly inhabited regions failed because instead of theengineers building more pumping capacity at the shore of the lake,they joined the existing pumping projects to the lake through thedrainage canals. This increased the potential threat of floodingsince the city was situated at below sea level. In the TVA ashspillage, it was evident that the construction of the project was notproperly managed by the engineers since they were absent during themost time of the construction (Roane,2012).It was also established that during the construction process, theengineers assumed the potential threats which they were creating, byconstructing dikes above the ashes which were already under pressure.These activities are evidence of violation of engineering ethicswhich requires the engineers to uphold the safety, welfare and healthof the public while executing their professional duties (Harriset al., 2013).Were the responsible engineers to adhere to the engineering ethics,the disasters could have been averted or their impacts could havebeen contained.


Fromthe above discussions, the Hurricane Katrina and TVA’s ash spillagedisasters occurred as a result of poor engineering techniques coupledwith negligence on the part of the concerned parties. The twodisasters should act as a benchmark for proper consideration on theengineering projects and designs of the future projects. Thedisasters provide that projects should have the external andindependent assessment by peers to establish potential risks of theprojects. The need to focus on the long term use and the generaldurability of the project is also a matter of concern which engineersshould consider on during the establishment of projects. Besides,future projects should focus on the emergency situations in case ofaccidents to reduce the impacts of disaster when they occur.



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Mileti,D. (2013).&nbspDisastersby design: A reassessment of natural hazards in the United States. Joseph, 3(4), 27-39


HarrisJr, C. E., Pritchard, M. S., Rabins, M. J., James, R., &ampEnglehardt, E. (2013).&nbspEngineeringethics: Concepts and cases.Cengage Learning.

HenryPress.Lin Moe, T. (2012). Cleanup after Katrina: an analysis onpolicy, process, priorities, problems, and politics.&nbspDisasterPrevention and Management: An International Journal,&nbsp20(4),314-332.