New report ties coal ash to hexavalent chromium

February 1, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

A new report out this morning ties toxic coal ash to pollution of water supplies with the cancer-causing chemical hexavalent chromium.

Here’s the announcement:

Just weeks after recent headlines about hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing toxic chemical, contaminated drinking water systems around the U.S., a new report shows that scores of leaking coal ash sites across the country are additional documented sites for such contamination.

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical leaks readily from leaking coal ash dump sites maintained for coal-fired power plants.

Public interest law firm Earthjustice, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Environmental Integrity Project are pushing for federally-enforceable safeguards from coal ash as this new information is released. Also, in a signal that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recognizes the hazards of hexavalent chromium exposure, they have called on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to testify tomorrow on a hearing about the chemical.

I’ve posted a copy of the report here.

Lisa Evans, senior administrative counsel at Earthjustice, said this morning:

Communities near coal ash sites must add hexavalent chromium to the list of toxic chemicals that threaten their health and families. It is now abundantly clear that the EPA must control coal ash disposal to prevent the poisoning of our drinking water with hexavalent chromium.

The new report found:

— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that the type of chromium that leaches from coal ash sites is nearly always of the hexavalent variety, which is the most toxic form of chromium.

— The threat of hexavalent chromium drinking water contamination is present at hundreds of unlined coal ash sites across the country.

— At least 28 coal ash sites in 17 states have already released chromium to groundwater at levels exceeding by thousands of times a proposed drinking water goal for hexavalent chromium.

— Power plants dump more than 10 million pounds of chromium and chromium compounds into mostly unlined or inadequately lined coal ash landfills, ponds and fill sites each year. The electric power industry is the largest single source of chromium and chromium compounds released to the environment.

— The U.S. Department of Energy and electric utility industry have known for years about the aggressive leaking of hexavalent chromium from coal ash.

— Hexavalent chromium contamination from coal ash is clearly a grave threat. Yet the U.S. EPA, which is currently in the process of deciding whether or not to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, has completely ignored the cancer risk from chromium in groundwater.

Coal ash, the leftover waste from power plants, contains arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, selenium and many other chemicals that can cause cancer and damage the nervous system and organs, especially in children. Hexavalent chromium is a highly toxic carcinogen when inhaled, and recent studies from the National Toxicology Program indicate that when leaked into drinking water, it also can cause cancer.

Barbara Gottlieb, Deputy Director for Environment & Health at Physicians for Social Responsibility, said:

The cancer risk from hexavalent chromium is one more serious threat to health from coal ash. To protect the public from carcinogens and other dangerous substances, the EPA needs to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.

Eric Schaeffer, executive director for Environmental Integrity Project, said:

Studies by the EPA, the state of California, and the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry show that ingesting minute amounts of hexavalent chromium increases the risk of cancer. Coal ash dumps have contaminated groundwater with much higher concentrations of this deadly carcinogen, according to the industry’s own monitoring data. The Obama Administration should keep its promise to respect science and protect the public’s health, by putting strict standards in place to keep this contamination from spreading even further.

4 Responses to “New report ties coal ash to hexavalent chromium”

  1. Monty says:

    And let’s not forget that we have more than a few of these lovely ash dumps in our state, and our own DEP “regulates” them, and has no clue whether any of them are contaminating the groundwater or not. Once the stuff’s in there, you can never, ever, get all of it out.

  2. Ruben Lee says:

    This is really distressing news because I grew up in the Orlando, Florida Parramore District in a housing project that was constructed on top of an unlined coal ash landfill. The landfill was excavated in 2007 under a cloud of secrecy and deception. However, after a 20 years investigation the EPA’s investigation finally reported the soil and groundwater was contaminated by the Orlando Coal-Gasification Plant that operated in the Parramore District from the 1880s until about 1960. On January 7th, 2011 the Orlando Weekly released an article titled “Poison in the well” that discusses the pollution. However, even today officials deny that the people that lived in the Parramore District were exposed to any health risks. That means that the people in the Parramore District that relied on well water and lived in contaminated soil for more than a century are essentially immune to coal ash chemicals. However, when you check the health statistics you find that those people die from diseases at rates that are two to three times higher than people that lived outside the Parramore District. Go figure.

  3. rhmooney3 says:

    Poison in the well
    The EPA’s investigation of a toxic site in Parramore took two decades. How many more will it take to clean it up?
    By Jeff Gore
    Published: January 6, 2011


    On Sept. 13, 1988, hydrologist Anne Bradner arrived in downtown Orlando to draw samples from a water-monitoring well at the southeast corner of Jefferson Street and Gertrude Avenue in Parramore. Her employer, the U.S. Geological Survey, suspected that a coal-gasification plant had polluted soil and groundwater in the area. When the results came in a week later, the organization’s fears were confirmed. High concentrations of volatile compounds were detected; further investigation was 

    Twenty-two years later, that time-consuming investigation is finally wrapping up. Next week, scientists from environmental consulting firm Arcadis will visit the area to do a final study of the site of the former Orlando Gasification Plant before it enters into the long, slow process of remediation.

  4. As bad as fossil-fuel-based plant emissions can be, they pale in comparison to the effects of coal ash, as it is allowed to be disposed of currently, on the health of people living in the vicinity of these impoundments. These new EPA “regulations” are being bought with coal dollars, and abetted by pro-industry puppeteers with their hands on Obama’s strings. The coal industry’s growing list of paid apologists now includes CNN, which, according to the following After the Press video report, aired a story recently about a giant coal ash dump on the W. Va./Penn border – with the “report” in fact sponsored by an airbrushed spot for The Coalition for Clean Coal:

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