Report: Coal Ash Is Toxic Threat To Our Waterways

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TRENTON–As the Environmental Protection Agency considers rules on regulating contaminated waste from coal plants, the Sierra Club released a report this week showing toxic materials in coal ash are an increasingly dangerous threat to our waterways and the environment.

The report, which the Sierra Club completed with Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, exposes the extensive threat of coal ash, a toxic and hazardous byproduct of burning coal for electricity.

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The report, In Harm’s Way, reveals that inadequate management of toxic coal waste has made water supplies throughout the country unsafe. Each year, more than 150 million tons of coal ash, which contains dangerous toxins like arsenic, selenium, lead, cadmium, mercury, and even sometimes chromium, cobalt, barium, sulfides and others, are discarded into ponds and dumps nationwide. Many of these sites are less regulated than a regular garbage dump. Without proper protection, coal ash toxins leak out of the waste and contaminate our water supply, causing cancer, organ disease, respiratory illness, and neurological damage.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing new rules to ensure the safe disposal of coal ash. A series of seven hearings on the coal ash rule begin Monday, Aug. 30.

“These dumping sites are ticking time bombs that put our waterways and fisheries at risk,” NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. “Coal ash is dangerous and must be treated as toxic waste. It is critical we properly regulate coal ash, despite the fact that these important rules are under attack by the coal industry.”

According to the NJ Sierra Club, for the protection of our communities and environment the EPA must designate coal ash as hazardous waste and properly regulate its disposal. For too long, the people of New Jersey have been impacted by the pollution from coal ash. Power plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink.

According to the report, in 2005, 100 million gallons of fly ash and contaminated water was released into the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for approximately one third of New Jersey’s municipalities. The coal ash spill occurred because of a storage basin blowout at PPL’s Martin’s Creek plant in Lower Mount Bethel Township, Penn. This leak contaminated our drinking water, impacting the many towns along the Delaware that depend on the river to drive their economies through tourism, fishing, and recreation.

New Jersey plants do dry storage for coal ash and therefore are not a threat, the NJ Sierra Club concludes. However, our residents are still threatened by plants in New York and especially Pennsylvania, where Martin’s Creek and Reliant are located. This report clearly identifies the threats created by coal ash; there are plants on the Delaware River that present this very threat.

“This toxic stuff is hidden in plain sight at power plants on the banks of many rivers,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director of Delaware Riverkeeper. “This is a catastrophe waiting to happen as basins age and stockpiles grow. The ongoing release of these dangerous materials to our environment can only be stopped by changing the classification of ash to reflect its true nature – a hazardous waste product with serious health impacts.”

Consistent, mandatory federal safeguards that protect the environment and communities from toxic leaking must be adopted by the EPA to prevent future coal ash disasters, according to the NJ Sierra Club. Effective coal ash regulations must require basic protections such as composite liners, water run-off controls, groundwater monitoring, and financial assurance that companies will pay for their pollution.

“Coal ash must be treated as the toxic waste that it is. We encourage EPA to quickly implement the strong federal safeguards needed to protect our communities from coal ash,” Tittel said. “This is a choice between the public interest and special interests. The coal lobby wants to kill this proposal and put our water at risk.”

Read the full report here: action.sierraclub.org/harmsway.


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