Coal Tattoo

New report documents more coal ash contamination

As the Obama administration prepared to begin the public hearings on its proposed regulation of the handling and disposal of toxic coal ash, environmental groups today are releasing a new report that documents more water contamination from ash dumps across the country.

The report, by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, documents 39 additional coal-ash dump sites in 21 states that are contaminating drinking water or surface water with arsenic and other heavy metals.

Experts from those groups found that, at every one of the coal-ash dump sites equipped with groundwater monitoring wells, concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic or lead exceeded federal health-based standards for drinking water, with concentrations at the Hatfield’s Ferry site in Pennsylvania reaching as high as 341 times the federal standard for arsenic.

This new report comes after a February 2010 report by Environmental Integrity and Earthjustice that documented water contamination from 31 coal-ash dump sites in 14 state. See New report: More water poisoned by coal ash. It also adds to the nearly 70 other sites previously identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lisa Evans, senior administrative counsel at Earthjustice, said:

There is no greater reason for coal ash regulation than preventing the poisoning of our water. We now have 39 more good reasons for a national coal ash rule. the mountaing number of contaminated sites demonstrates that the states are unable or unwilling to solve this problem.

Environmental groups want to see the Obama EPA take a more aggressive stance, and choose to more closely regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste (for more discussion of the alternatives being considered by EPA see Obama EPA punts on coal ash regulations.

Jeff Stant, director of the Environmental Integrity Project’s Coal Combustion Waste Initiative, said:

The contamination of water supplies, threats to people, and damage to the environment documented in this report illustrate very real and dangerous harms that are prohibited by federal law but are going on in a largely unchecked fashion at today’s coal ash dump sites. Contamination of the environment and water supplies with toxic levels of arsenic, lead and other chemicals is a pervasive reality at America’s coal ash disposal sites because states are not preventing it. The case for a national regulation setting common sense safeguards for states to meet, such as liners, monitoring and cleanup standards, could not be more persuasive. The need for more direct EPA involvement is clear; leaving enforcement to the same states that have refused to do their jobs for the last 40 years is simply not a responsible course of action.

Some of the report highlights:

— The total number of sites polluted by coal ash or sludge is now at least 137 in 34 states. These sites account for 29 percent of the 467 plants that dispose of coal ash onsite or offsite.

— Contaminated groundwater underneath at least 15 of the 39 sites is moving toward private water wells within two miles of the site boundaries. At least 18 of the newly identified 39 contaminated sites are located within five miles of a public groundwater well that could potentially be affected by pollutants from these sites.

— In some cases — Hatfield’s Ferry as well as Gallatin and Johnsonville in Tenn. — coal ash dump sites are leaking into rivers just upstream from intakes for public water systems.

— Most of the damaged sites identified cannot be dismissed as a legacy of past practices that are no longer allowed today … Almost all of the facilities in the new report are active disposal sites, with recent evidence of contamination.

Lyndsay Moseley, federal policy representative for the Sierra Club, said:

The health risks from exposure to this toxic waste are real and we cannot afford to ignore them any longer. It is clear from this report that the closer we look the worse this problem becomes. The only real solution is for the EPA to adopt federally enforceable protections as part of its push to improve public health. We’re talking about people’s lives here.