New report from physicians’ group: Pollution from toxic coal ash is an ‘expanding menace to health’

September 16, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues its series of public hearings on proposed regulation of the handling and disposal of toxic coal ash, the group Physicians for Social Responsibility is releasing a new report on the subject. Its conclusion, according to Barbara Gottlieb, PSR’s deputy director for environment and health:

This is an expanding menace to health.  Coal ash is much more toxic than previously understood, and it is endangering communities and the environment in state after state.
The report, released in conjunction with Earthjustice,  is available online and here’s a list of its major findings:

— The toxic metals arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium contained in coal ash contribute to several forms of cancer, as well as lung disease, kidney disease, mental retardation, breathing problems and even death.

— The report documents the analysis of 73 samples of coal ash waste that showed that pollutants including arsenic and selenium can leach into drinking water at levels exceeding those which the federal government defines as hazardous, sometimes by orders of magnitude.

— Coal ash spills, leaks and leaches into surface and ground water, are absorbed by fish and other animals, and can even be delivered by the air people breathe.

— Low-income communities often carry a disproportionate burden of living near coal ash facilities.

Lisa Evans of Earthjustice said:

There is absolutely no question anymore: coal ash is toxic to human health. In the face of mounting evidence of harm to communities across the U.S., the EPA must act without delay to safeguard the public from this growing threat.

For a report on EPA’s latest public hearing, held Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., be sure to read this blog dispatch by Facing South’s Sue Sturgis, who was covering coal-ash issues long before the rest of us in the media figured out the issue mattered.

EPA’s next public hearing is today in Chicago, while additional hearings are scheduled for Sept. 21 in Pittsburgh and Sept. 28 in Louisville.

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