Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee River will likely be spared barge accidents like the one that spilled toxic chemicals this week on the Mississippi River, a University of Tennessee transportation specialist said Thursday.

 David Clarke said few barges use the Tennessee River because of its small locks, steep bluffs and sharp curves, so there is less chance of an accident.

 “Barge operators make money from long strings of tows,” Clarke said. “To handle a long tow up to Knoxville they would have to break the string every time they went through a lock. It would be too expensive.”

 Schools and homes were evacuated Wednesday near Baton Rouge, La., after toluene and benzene spewed from an overturned string of 25 barges. It was the third barge collision near the area this week, as the river reached it highest water level since 1937.

 Clarke said about 221,000 tons of barge shipments floated the Tennessee River to Knoxville in 1995, compared to about 455 million tons at Baton Rouge.

 Even if a barge crashed in East Tennessee, risk of a toxic chemical spill is much less than with most Mississippi River barges, Clarke said. Barge cargo at Knoxville is mostly asphalt, limestone and gypsum, which are not major environmental hazards, he said.

 “It’s not to say someone will not order a barge load of gasoline or something up through (East Tennessee), but that’s not really that likely to happen,” Clarke said.


 Contact: Dr. David Clarke (423-974-5255)