Coal is dirty. Its mining endangers human lives and scars the landscape; its burning pollutes the air, increases atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane concentrations and produces acid rain. When written, the exposure of the environment and human populations to these effects seems unacceptable.
Introducing coal ash
For many of us, including myself, December 2008 was the first time we became aware of coal ash, the most notable solid waste product of coal burning. The wall of an 84-acre coal ash containment pond near Kingston, Tenn., collapsed — allowing over one billion gallons of wet coal ash to flood the surrounding area. The spill covered over 300 acres and spread into tributaries of the Tennessee River. Terrestrial and aquatic animal and plant life as well as water quality and human safety were impacted.
Nearly two years after this event, In Harm's Way
), a report released by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and Sierra Club, describes 39 sites of coal ash disposal where the waste product has contaminated water supplies. Located in 21 states, these sites are dump sites for toxic material known to contain heavy metals, including arsenic and lead. Exposure to these contaminants can cause developmental problems, neurological damage and a drastic increase in cancer risk.
Two of the newly released sites are located in Arkansas. The Flint Creek Power Plant in Benton County and the Independence Steam Station in Independence County were listed as having damaged surrounding groundwater supplies due to coal ash disposal. Leaching of contaminants directly from the disposal site was found at both plants. Leaching from underground pipes and coal ash storage piles were also found at the Independence Steam Station.
Will the EPA regulate?
Up to this point, coal ash has not been regulated by the EPA or any other authority. Only now is the EPA considering its regulation and redefinition as toxic waste. Hearings have been occurring in several cities and have been open for public comment. Social and environmental advocates have been responsive but the coal industry has also been actively attending.
- Tuesday, September 21: Pittsburgh, PA
- Tuesday, September 28: Louisville, KY