coal ash

Toxic Coal Ash Disposal Proves Costly and Hazardous, Duke Energy's Sutton Lake Contamination Questioned

A new report out from Wake Forest University concludes that coal ash waste from Duke Energy’s Sutton coal plant in Wilmington, NC is elevating levels of selenium pollution in nearby Sutton Lake. The lake, prized by fishermen for its largemouth bass population, has been contaminated, according to a study released today by Prof. Dennis Lemly, Research Associate Professor of Biology at Wake Forest, with high levels of selenium. Selenium has been linked to deformities in fish – including two-headed trout – and can cause a condition known as selenosis if people consume high enough doses in their food or drinking water.

Several conservation groups, including the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which joined the University in announcing the findings, filed suit against Duke Energy Progress, Inc. this summer, arguing that pollution from the Sutton plant's coal ash is “killing a regional fishing lake and is threatening a community’s drinking water.”

The new report, which found that the coal ash pollution kills over 900,000 fish and deforms thousands more in Sutton Lake each year, is likely to bolster the plaintiffs' case in that suit.

The research also highlights one of the most fundamental problems with American energy policy: policy-makers and the public have been unwilling to recognize the true costs of the fuels we use to make electricity.

Could Lead Paint Lawsuit Pave Way For Class Action Against Coal Industry?

Coal industry executives ought to pay attention to the lead paint lawsuit currently happening in the California court system.

Recently, a lawsuit was filed against the makers of lead paint, alleging that the industry knew about the toxicity of their product and yet still promoted it as “safe” to the public.  The industry has faced many lawsuits over their products in the past, most of which were unsuccessful for the victims, due to the fact that the industry was often up front about the dangers of their products, and they funded public studies to determine the health effects.

But things have changed in the American legal system, and attorneys are now taking a page out of the tobacco litigation playbook.  By unearthing documents that detail the lead paint industry’s attempted cover-up of the dangers, they avoid the “buyer beware” caveat that the tobacco industry used for so long. 

And just like the tobacco industry, lead paint manufacturers were specifically targeting children with their ads.  The California lawsuit is making that a central part of the trial.  Also reminiscent of the tobacco litigation, the suit was filed by cities and municipalities, not individual victims, greatly increasing the chance for success.

The coal industry should be paying very close attention to the progress of this litigation, as their activities could become the next target of skilled attorneys.  For decades, the coal industry has been poisoning American citizens with their coal-mining, -burning and -dumping activities.  Additionally, the dismal working conditions for miners has cost many families an unnecessary loss of life.

Report Details Coal Industry's Pollution of Waterways, Political System

According to a new report, the coal industry’s pollution is contaminating our water supplies, our regulatory agencies, and even our political process.  The report, a joint project by the Waterkeeper Alliance, Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the Environmental Integrity Project, shows that when it comes to spewing toxic chemicals into our waterways, the coal industry is public enemy number one.

The report found that many coal plants across the country are releasing coal ash waste and scrubber waste without any federal oversight, and many are held to standards that are outdated and virtually limitless.  Many of the standards currently in place were written more than 30 years ago, and they do not include any regulations on toxic threats that had not yet been identified at the time the original rules were put in place.

A few highlights of the report, from the Sierra Club:

Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways, nearly 70 percent (188) have no limits on the toxics most commonly found in these discharges (arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium) that are dumped directly into rivers, lakes, streams and bays.

Of these 274 coal plants, more than one-third (102) have no requirements to monitor or report discharges of these toxic metals to government agencies or the public.

A total of 71 coal plants surveyed discharge toxic water pollution into rivers, lakes, streams and bays that have already been declared impaired due to poor water quality. Of these plants that are dumping toxic metals into impaired waterways, more than three out of four coal plants (59) have no permit that limits the amount of toxic metals it can dump.

Nearly half of the coal plants surveyed (187) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. 53 of these power plants are operating with permits that expired five or more years ago.

EPA And TVA Nix Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Efforts

Four years after a coal processing plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) accidentally released tons of toxic coal ash into waterways in Kingston, the cleanup has finally come to an end. 

But just because cleanup efforts have ceased, that does not mean that the pollution problem is gone.

In fact, quite the opposite is true.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a deal with the TVA to allow the company to stop their cleanup efforts and allow “natural river processes” to dispose of the remaining toxic sludge.

Coal Ash Sites Posing Increasing Dangers To Water Supplies, Public Health

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has once again put together a fantastic report regarding water contamination near coal ash disposal sites.

Last year, the EIP released several reports showing that drinking water near coal ash disposal sites in states across America contained dangerous levels of heavy metals and other toxins, including arsenic. In total, last year’s report revealed 53 sites in the United States where coal ash had polluted drinking water supplies.

The new report has identified a total of 116 coal ash sites in America that are leaching deadly toxins into the environment.

The new EIP report resulted from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the EPA, which revealed that 49 different coal-fired power plants acknowledged that their own testing showed that groundwater pollution around their disposal sites far exceeded the federally acceptable levels. Among the chemicals reported to exceed federal standards at the coal-fired plants’ disposal sites are:

ALEC’s Vision of Pre-Empting EPA Coal Ash Regs Passes the House

Authored by Sara Jerving of and Cross-posted with permission from the Center for Media and Democracy. 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment on April 18 to the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 (HR 4348) that would effectively pre-empt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating coal ash, the waste from coal burning plants, as a hazardous waste. About 140 million tons of coal ash are produced by power plants in the United States each year. There are about 1,000 active coal ash storage sites across the country.

According to the EPA, the ash contains concentrations of arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals, but the coal industry has claimed there is less mercury in the ash than in a fluorescent light bulb. However, the EPA found in 2010 that the cancer risk from arsenic near some unlined coal ash ponds was one in 50 – 2,000 times the agency’s regulatory goal. Additionally, researchers from the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and Sierra Club have documented water contamination from coal ash sites in 186 locations. The new bill would strip the EPA’s authority to regulate the ash and hand it over to the states.  

The coal industry and its allies have been pushing several levers to stop the EPA from regulating coal ash, including passing resolutions through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Along with its coal ash provisions, the transportation bill, which is intended to extend highway and transit funding through September, includes measures that would advance the controversial trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline.

Report: Arsenic From Coal Ash Disposal Sites Leaching Into Groundwater

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has released a startling report showing that coal ash dumps near coal-burning power plants are leaching arsenic and other toxic chemicals into water supplies. The new report identifies 20 new sites in 10 different states where coal ash is contaminating water supplies. These sites are in addition to the 33 coal ash disposal sites that EIP identified earlier this year that are contaminating water supplies.

From an EIP release:

EIP has identified a total of 20 additional coal ash dump sites causing groundwater and soil contamination in 10 states – Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. These include 19 sites where coal ash appears to have contaminated groundwater with arsenic or other pollutants at levels above Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL). All but two have also measured concentrations of other pollutants – such as boron, molybdenum, and manganese – above EPA-recommended Health Advisories for children or adults. In addition, our report includes new information about 7 previously recognized damage cases, including stunning evidence of groundwater more toxic than hazardous waste leachate.

After EPA documented 67 proven or potential ‘damage cases’ in 2007, we found groundwater or surface water contamination at 70 additional sites, and submitted our analysis to EPA in two reports released in February and August of 2010. The current report brings the total number of damage cases identified by EPA and other groups to 157.

New Lake Michigan Coal Ash Spill Raises Old Concerns

On Monday, a bluff surrounding a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based power plant collapsed, sending a cascade of debris and coal ash waste from the power plant into Lake Michigan. No injuries were reported by We Energies, the company who owns the power plant, but the environmental assessment will likely be less optimistic. We Energies, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corporation (NYSE: WEC), has confirmed that the debris that made it into the river likely contained coal ash.

As of Monday afternoon, a “fuel sheen” appeared on the surface of Lake Michigan as a result of the bluff collapse. Cleanup crews from Clean Harbor were contracted by We Energies to help contain the spread of the sheen, and will be deploying about 1,500 feet of boom to help contain the waste on the surface. Shortly after the accident, residents living up to a mile away from the site along the lake were already reporting debris washing onshore.

As we have reported extensively in the past, coal ash contains countless toxic substances, including mercury, hexavalent chromium, arsenic, and cadmium. It has also been reported to be more radioactive as nuclear waste. In spite of these findings, the EPA has yet to issue any firm stance on whether or not coal ash will be regulated as a “toxic waste,” partly due to the fact that the coal industry has unleashed a cadre of lobbyists to Washington to fight to protect their coal ash interests.

The EPA’s delay in issuing a ruling on coal ash has allowed the Republican-controlled Congress to gain the upper hand on the issue. In early fall 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would prohibit the EPA from regulating coal ash, and preventing them from classifying the substance as “hazardous.” Instead of EPA regulations, the bill would allow states to issue their own standards on coal ash and prevent any federal standards.

Make Money Having Fun, A Company That Makes Money Contaminating Water Supplies

An Oklahoma coal fly ash disposal company has found themselves in hot, contaminated water over their practice of using oil and gas wastewater brine in the disposal of fly ash. According to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the fly ash disposal firm called (no joke) Make Money Having Fun, LLC has been ordered to indefinitely suspend their practice of mixing oil wastewater with fly ash until they can resolve their numerous contamination problems.

And after years of trying to clean up their state, Oklahoma residents have been granted at least a temporary victory by the E.P.A. in their efforts to prevent Make Money Having Fun, LLC from continuing to poison their water supply. From the Tulsa World News:

The EPA issued a cease-and-desist order against Making Money Having Fun in April 2010 for violations of the federal Clean Water Act stemming from the discharge of pollutants into a tributary of Doe Creek.

Coal Ash Ponds Contaminating Groundwater In Tennessee

TVA Kingston Coal Ash Spill credit-Greenpeace

The Inspector General of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) released a new report showing that coal ash holding sites at several TVA-owned coal-fired power plants has managed to contaminate groundwater. The report says that chemical concentrations are so high in certain areas that they could pose a serious health risk to residents. Among the chemicals that the Inspector General’s report lists as being found in the water supply were arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, selenium, and vanadium.

While the chemicals found in the water supply show that there is a serious threat to local communities coming from the coal ash repositories, that isn’t the most disturbing part of the report. The real problem is that the TVA knew about the chemicals being leaked into the water supply for at least a decade, and did nothing. The report says that the TVA had found chemicals indicating coal ash leaks in areas in and around Memphis, as well as other sites across Tennessee.


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