Coal / Coal Ash / Energy

Obama EPA continues inaction on key rule, despite growing evidence of coal ash problems

Dr. Avner Vengosh, Professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University, author of a new coal ash study.

WASHINGTON D.C. — “Sunday’s Washington Post included the following update from environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin on the important issue of regulating the handling and disposal of toxic coal ash from our nation’s power plants:

In Maryland’s Zekiah Swamp, one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most important tributaries, 8.4 million tons of coal ash in pits from former operations of the Morgantown power plant are leaking into groundwater. Residents on the Moapa River Reservation north of Las Vegas blame a spike in respiratory illnesses on the uncovered ash ponds and ash dump from a generating station nearby.

The ash left after burning coal includes toxic elements such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, selenium and mercury. Produced by 431 coal-fired power plants, which supply 36 percent of the nation’s electricity, coal ash piles up at the staggering rate of 140 million tons a year

More than 40 percent of it is recycled to help make concrete, gypsum wallboard and pavement. But utilities store the rest in landfills, ponds or mines, and evidence has been growing in recent years that leakage is a problem.

‘The time has come for common-sense national protections to assure safe disposal of these materials,’ Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. That was in 2010.

…Study author Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said:

We are saving the sky by putting in more scrubbers to remove particulates from power plant emissions. But these contaminants don’t just disappear. As our study shows, they remain in high concentrations in the solid waste residue and wastewater the coal-fired power plants produce. Yet there are no systematic monitoring or regulations to reduce water-quality impacts from coal ash ponds because coal ash is not considered as hazardous waste.

— Ken Ward Jr., Charleston Gazette

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