EPA Report Details Coal Ash ThreatOct 28, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
We have been following events since the catastrophic fly ash spill that took place last December in Tennessee in which an unimaginable 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal sludge was dumped into the Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston plant. Now, an emerging Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report states that some “potentially toxic pollutants,” such as mercury and arsenic, which are found in coal ash, could present serious problems.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, we wrote about how information pointing to “significantly higher cancer risks” for those living near coal-fired power plant ash dumps was allegedly covered up by the recent Bush Administration, citing a report by EnvironmentalIntegrity.org. The historic TVA spill’s involved over one billion gallons of toxic coal sludge and The spill ravaged the environment, the economy, and the lives and health of the families, wildlife, and aquatic life living in the area. KnoxNews previously noted that the toxic sludge destroyed three homes and damaged about two-dozen others.
The new report states that the pollutants can converge in considerable quantities, which are released into waterways or groundwater, said the Tennessean. The report is in excess of 230 pages and has been met with positive responses from environmentalists who are hoping this will pave the way for improved regulations, added the Tennessean.
"We applaud the EPA for addressing coal's toxic legacy head on, for delving deeper and completing this long overdue investigation," said Mary Anne Hitt, deputy director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, in an emailed statement, quoted the Tennessean. Hitt added that she is hoping that the EPA will institute “strong federal regulations in place for coal ash" and removal of sludge.
Numerous studies have concluded 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, including frightening guarantees of developing cancer from drinking contaminated water and suffering damage to the liver, kidney, lungs and other organs from toxic metal exposure, such as cadmium, cobalt, lead, and other pollutants far above levels that are considered safe,” said Environmental Integrity, previously. 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.”
Officials at the agency said they would make a decision by year-end regarding the regulation of coal ash as a hazardous waste; however, industry officials say this move is not necessary and “would undermine” recycling efforts, said the Tennessean. The waste is sometimes recycled into concrete.
But, the report discusses cases in which the toxin has killed aquatic wildlife, contaminated wells, and adversely affected wildlife, reported the Tennessean, with the causes linked to coal ash wastewater. The waste has been both accidentally and “routinely” released as a result of coal-fired plant daily operations, the Tennessean noted.
“Many of the common pollutants found in coal combustion wastewater (e.g., selenium, mercury, and arsenic) are known to cause environmental harm and can potentially represent a human health risk," said the report, quoted the Tennessean.