‘Virtually All’ Coal Plants Polluting Groundwater — Time for Tighter Regulation?
Should there be tighter regulation of coal ash disposal? Why or why not?
by Countable | 3.5.19
- The vast majority of coal plants across the U.S. are leaking toxic chemicals into nearby groundwater, according to a new report.
Why it matters
The report derived its findings, which cover the roughly three-quarters of U.S. coal plants that monitor groundwater pollution, from utility filings mandated by the federal Coal Combustion Residuals rule. The Trump administration is attempting to roll that rule back.
Coal combustion results in coal waste — called coal ash — that’s laced with heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, and lead, as well as other toxins that can contaminate water and raise cancer risk with long-term exposure.
Coal ash is disposed of either as a liquid that goes into large surface ponds, or as a solid that goes into landfills. Electric utilities are in the process of converting it to dry ash and burying it in pits with liners, which is safer, but many unlined coal ash pits remain.
The report, published by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, found that in many cases, the levels of toxic contaminants that had leaked into groundwater were far higher than the thresholds the Environmental Protection Agency has set.
A majority of plants reported unsafe levels of arsenic, a carcinogen that can impede brain development. More than 60 percent reported unsafe levels of lithium, which can also cause neurological problems. Most plants reported unsafe levels of at least four toxic coal combustion residuals.
Is drinking water affected?
The data on which the report relied don’t prove in and of themselves that drinking water sources have been contaminated, and power companies are generally not required to test nearby drinking water wells. However, almost 90 million people rely on groundwater for their drinking water. The report documents numerous instances of coal ash contamination of residential tap water, though current data don’t allow a direct link to specific utilities’ leaks.
During last year’s Hurricane Florence, coal ash from one of Duke Energy’s North Carolina power plants spilled into nearby waterways.
What do you think?
Should there be tighter regulation of coal ash disposal? Why or why not? Tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.
—Sara E. Murphy
(Image Credit: iStock.com / André Muller)
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