Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Natural Resources

Major Professor

John M. Fly

Committee Members

David Ostermeier, Sherry Cable, Bruce Tonn


On December 22, 2008, near Kingston, Tennessee, a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) retention pond holding approximately 1.7 million cubic yards of coal fly ash failed, spilling the ash into the nearby Emory River and inundating farms and homes in the Swan Pond community. As a result more than 100 people were permanently displaced from their homes and the clean-up effort is ongoing.

The purpose of this study was to explore the experience of living near Kingston, Tennessee, in the aftermath of the spill. Using existential phenomenology as the guiding research methodology, I interviewed 9 participants from the area and asked the question, “Please tell me about a time when you have been aware of the ash spill.” Interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using an approach to existential phenomenological research developed by Thomas and Pollio (2002). Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed four themes: 1) Change, Loss, and Uncertainty, 2) Inconvenience, 3) Powerlessness in the Face of Government (“You can’t fight city hall”), and 4) Shouldering the Cost Burden/People Getting Something for Nothing (in general, economics). In addition, three sub-themes were identified with Change, Loss, and Uncertainty: landscape, community, and recreation. Each theme stood out against the dual grounds of the world and time.

A review of the literature in conjunction with the theme analysis indicates two theories at work: inhibition of collective action and a generational power structure that contributes to quiescence.

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