updated 1/12/2009 4:42:28 PM ET 2009-01-12T21:42:28

The nation's largest public utility said Monday tests showed slightly elevated levels of contaminants in the Tennessee River downstream from an Alabama coal-waste spill, but the samples still met federal standards for safe drinking water.

Results of tests performed by a private laboratory for the Tennessee Valley Authority showed the levels of more than a dozen substances were a bit higher downstream than upstream from the spill at the Widows Creek power plant, located in extreme northeast Alabama.

The tests of water found elevated levels of metals including aluminum, arsenic and magnesium, but the amounts were still below the levels allowed by federal environmental regulations.

"So far there's nothing to be concerned about," said Jessica Stone, a spokeswoman for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based utility.

Pleased with results
Officials in the town of Stevenson, located downstream from the Widows Creek plant, were still testing groundwater but said they were pleased with the initial tests of the river, which provides the city of nearly 1,800 with drinking water.

"It's something to be concerned about ... but right now I don't think it's too big of an event," said city utilities manager Brent Blackmon.

State regulators said as much as 10,000 gallons of waste spilled from a pond that is used mainly to hold water and gypsum, which is used in scrubbers that reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide emitted by burning coal.

Gypsum contains calcium sulfate, and the tests showed elevated sulfate levels in the river downstream from the spill.

The utility said damage from the Widows Creek spill appeared far less severe than from a spill that dumped about 1 billion gallons of coal ash at one of its plants at Kingston, Tenn., last month.

TVA, which has 9 million customers in seven Southeastern states, has similar ponds in several locations.

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