An environmental advocacy group has identified at least 28 coal fly ash dump sites, previously unrecognized by federal regulators, responsible for contaminating groundwater and posing serious public health risks.
According to a report at Care2.com, the Environmental Integrity Project has released a report tagging 49 coal-fired power plants as hazardous to the environment and public health. These coal-fired power facilities are located near 116 coal fly ash disposal sites across the country. The watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Environmental Protection Agency to obtain data the agency has collected on groundwater samples taken near those fly ash disposal sites. After receiving the requested information from the EPA, the watchdog group found 28 sites in Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia for which the EPA had no data collected.
Coal-fired power plants burn the resource to generate electricity. When the coal burns completely, it generates an ash. That ash has become a source of controversy as the power plants look for a place to dispose of it. Coal fly ash contains numerous toxins that pose serious risks to public health. Some of the dangerous metals and other harmful contents of fly ash include arsenic, manganese, selenium, boron, and cadmium. In a given year, these power plants and other sources generate about 140 million tons of coal fly ash.
Fly ash is commonly stored in retention ponds near the power plant. In 2008, a retention pond near a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant was breached and millions of pounds of fly ash was spilled onto a nearby community and several local streams. This resulted in loss of homes due to massive property damage, severe contamination of groundwater and soil where the fly ash spilled and a massive fish kill in the streams. Water in the streams near that TVA plant tested very high for the toxins found in coal fly ash.
Even in cases where a coal fly ash retention pond has not completely failed, the group believes many of these sites are slowly leaking their contents and posing a growing threat to neighbors of the facilities in question.
The Care2.com report also cites Sierra Club data which finds people living within a mile of a coal fly ash pond face the greatest risk to their health. Those nearest these power plants face a 1-in-50 chance of developing some form of cancer, a statistic the EPA would consider extremely dangerous.
Problems with coal fly ash lay mostly with the EPA, the environmental group states. The federal agency currently does not regulate coal fly ash, meaning it is upon the creators of this ash to dispose of it and to report its whereabouts to the regulators. Calls for regulation of this byproduct of burning coal have fallen short or upon deaf ears.
In its new report, EIP found that 42 of 91 power plants surveyed by the group had no data collected on groundwater samples taken near those coal fly ash sites. Either testing was never completed or the results of internal testing were never reported to the EPA. Without regulations, the EPA can not compel these companies to disclose the results of any of its testing. One site in its report, the EIP says, has been “implicated as the source of pollution” by a state agency investigating the impact of coal fly ash contamination.