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Coal Ash Cancer Risks Detailed in Suppressed Report

May 8, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Information pointing to “significantly higher cancer risks” for those living near coal-fired power plant ash dumps was covered up by the Bush Administration, according to a report just released by  Apparently, a 2002 report—EPA Risk Screening Report—was only finally released in 2009 after Barack Obama and his administration took office, said Environmental Integrity.

Although about three-dozen states were cited, 21 contain no less than five high-risk sites. The complete list can be found here.

Environmental Integrity accused the Bush Administration of dragging its feet for over five years on a “partial release” of data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that points to a very high risk of cancer for an alarming one out of every 50 Americans who live near ash and sludge dumps.  There are over 200 landfills and wet ponds, said Environmental Integrity, that contained disposed “ash and scrubber sludge” which comes from coal-fired power plants in this country, based on the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice.

About 100 million tons of “toxic fly ash, bottom, ash, and scrubber sludge” are dumped into landfills and wet ponds, said Environmental Integrity, citing 2008’s catastrophic fly ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, which we have long been covering. On December 22, 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spill dumped a massive 5.4 million cubic yards of coal sludge in Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and 300 acres surrounding its Kingston plant.

Environmental Integrity accused the Bush-era EPA of making “a concerted effort to delay the release of the information about cancer, noncancer, and general environmental risks,” noting that partial information on coal ash sites was delayed for five years from 2002 to 2007, with the full report only being released after the Bush Administration exited. The report was only released following significant delays and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) pressure, said Environmental Integrity.

EIP and Earthjustice believe the Bush Administration was trying to hide information on 100 landfills and 110 surface impoundments that were examined by the EPA and that do not contain appropriate synthetic liners to prevent leaks, posing serious human health and ecosystems risks.

This new release points to significant, toxic, life-threatening responses to these sites pointing to frightening guarantees of developing cancer from drinking contaminated water and suffering damage to the liver, kidney, lungs and other organs as a result of toxic metal exposure, such as “cadmium, cobalt, lead, and other pollutants at concentrations far above levels that are considered safe,” said Environmental Integrity.  The group also noted that the danger to wildlife and ecosystems is “off the charts, with one contaminant—boron—expected to leach into the environment at levels two thousand times thresholds generally considered to be safe.”

Numerous studies conclude that coal dumps leach dangerous toxins into the environment that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health outcomes in water and wildlife populations, but the TVA, for example, claims that sampling results indicate its air and water quality tests meet government standards and that heavy metal levels are below hazardous waste classifications, said KnoxNews in a prior report. Water samples reveal mercury levels above and below the criteria for protecting fish for consumption and, while some tests indicated levels that passed the Chronic Water Quality Criteria test, they failed the domestic water supply test, said Volunteer TV/WVLT previously.

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