Coal Tattoo readers have followed the ongoing controversy over efforts by West Virginia’s coal industry to further delay compliance with water quality limits for toxic selenium pollution from coal-fired power plants. (See previous posts here,Â here, here, and here).
Now, federal regulators are focusing in on selenium discharges from coal-fired power plant waste dumps, as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s broader examination of coal ash, prompted in large part by the December disaster at a TVA ash impoundment in East Tennessee.
Juliet Eilperin reported on this in Sunday’s Washington Post. According to her story:
Faced with new evidence that utilities across the country are dumping toxic sludge into waterways, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving to impose new restrictions on the level of contaminants power plants can discharge.
Plants in Florida, Pennsylvania and several other states have flushed wastewater with levels of selenium and other toxins that far exceed the EPA’s freshwater and saltwater standards aimed at protecting aquatic life, according to data the agency has collected over the past few years. While selenium can be beneficial in tiny amounts, elevated levels damage not only fish but also birds and people who consume contaminated fish.
But the reason more selenium and metals such as arsenic are now entering U.S. waterways is because the federal government has pressed utilities to install pollution-control “scrubbing” technology that captures contaminants headed for smokestacks and stores them as coal ash or sludge. The EPA estimates that these two types of coal combustion residue — often kept in outdoor pools or flushed into nearby rivers and streams — amount to roughly 130,000 tons per year and will climb to an estimated 175,000 tons by 2015.