These 10 sites are the most recently adding to the total list of 157 sites identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the independent Environmental Integrity Project, which released the report.
Coal ash is the by-product left over after coal is burned at power plants and has heavy concentrations of heavy metals and salts that can leach into the environment unless disposed of properly in ponds with liners and covers, said Jeff Stant, the report’s editor.
Most states however do not require these ponds to be lined, nor have any construction standards or any monitoring or cleanup requirements, Stant said, adding that almost half the toxic wastes from coal-burning in the United States are dumped in this manner. Nineteen of the 20 newly identified sites show ground water contaminated with arsenic or other toxic metals exceeding the maximum contaminant level set out in the Safe Drinking Water Act. The 20th site showed contaminated soil with arsenic 900 times the federal screening level for site cleanups, according to the report.
Those unfortunate enough to live near these sites, including three people who spoke at a briefing, reported contaminated streams, respiratory problems and air pollution powerful enough to turn a white house black. In one case, a rancher said he closely monitors the amount of sulfate in the water his cattle drink because this chemical can reach lethal levels to the cattle, not to mention humans.
The Environmental Integrity Project released an open letter to Congress signed by more than 2,000 people living near these sites, decrying “legislation that would stop EPA in its tracks and replace real standards with imaginary state ‘plans’ that polluters could ignore …”
Stant and others noted at a briefing that the House of Representatives has passed and the Senate is considering legislation that the environmental group said would give the states, instead of the federal government, authority to address the problem of coal ash contamination of water and soil. This would pose a problem, at least in my mind, as this toxic substance leeches into rivers and streams and can move across state lines which is in essence sending their bad toxic waste down the stream for someone else to worry about. This should be addressed under the national Clean Water Act, and not put onto states, some of which may ignore the danger altogether, while others do address the crisis accordingly. It would be unfair for states that have powerful lobbyists and bought politicians to dismiss this altogether and ignore the problem while other more socially responsible states could wind up paying a heavy price. This is just another fine example of the best government that money and the 1% can buy.
“We already have here a clear and present danger to America’s public health,” Stant said at a telephone briefing. “It is no solution for Congress to hand authority for addressing the problem permanently to states that have refused to enforce common-sense standards for the last 30 years and hope that the whole problem goes away.”
John Ward, of the American Coal Ash Association, disputed that interpretation of the measure now in Congress and stated the following in a telephone interview; “There are no federal standards for coal ash right now. This bill would also expand EPA’s enforcement authority from what it is now.”
Ward noted that this ash is generated in huge quantities and can be reprocessed into such consumer goods as wallboard and shingles. Unfortunately for those who live in these contaminated zones, it is fairly obvious that it is not being used for such purposes, and is just being dumped into the ground allowing it to seep into drinking water supplies.
John Ward stated; “We think the solution to coal ash problems is to stop throwing it away, to alleviate the need to have these disposal ponds at all.” Well you think Ward? But I guess that would cost the industry too much money now wouldn’t it, it is probably far cheaper to just dump it into the ground anywhere you feel like and kick the proverbial can down the road. Sooner or later the bill will come due in the form of health issues, contaminated drinking water supplies, and ultimately cleanup costs, all of which would of course be absorbed by the taxpayers and residents, and not from the companies that dump the toxic waste in the first place. In my mind, it would be just good sense to stop the problem at the root, and eliminate the immoral dumping of the ash in the first place, and develop a sound strategy to contain to waste and even try to find ways to decontaminate through organics or other plasma incinerators, but that would be too easy now, but more than likely too expensive is what they will claim. Can’t cut into those profits for the 1% now can we?
The full Environmental Integrity Project report on Coal Ash toxic contamination is available online at Environmental Integrity