Coal / Coal Ash

Coal’s other dark side: Toxic ash that can poison water and people

Workers who cleaned up a huge spill from a coal ash pond in Tennessee in 2008 are still suffering—and dying. The U.S. has 1,400 ash dumps.

Photos: (A) Google earth and (B) Tennessee Valley Authority

KINGSTON, TN — “After the Kingston spill, environmental groups advocated regulating coal ash as hazardous waste. But the utilities and ACAA lobbied hard against the move, arguing that it would dry up the market for recycling and just create more coal ash. EPA instead passed its first regulation on coal ash storage, requiring that all new coal ash landfills be lined (although existing unlined landfills can still be used), and that companies test groundwater around the ash ponds.

The industry-generated data were released last March: They revealed groundwater contamination at 95 percent of the tested sites. The utilities are required to retest, then clean up the contamination and even close the site if it continues. The Trump Administration is now attempting to roll back those regulations as too burdensome, allowing states to end groundwater monitoring and other requirements.

‘It’s not just one toxin,’ says Avner Vengosh, a geochemist at Duke Universitywho studied both the Kingston and Dan River spills. ‘It’s a cocktail of arsenic, copper, lead, selenium, thallium, antimony, and other metals at higher levels than in their natural state. People think coal ash is not going to be a problem because utilities are switching to natural gas and it’s cleaner. But the legacy of coal ash production and disposal is going to be with us for ages. These contaminants don’t biodegrade.'”

— Joel K. Bourne, Jr., National Geographic

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