Report: 90% of all US coal-fired power plants contaminate groundwater
More than 90% of the country’s coal-fired power plants contaminate water in 43 states, according to a new report. And nearly half of them have no intention of cleaning up the mess.
The study, released Thursday by environmental watchdogs Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project, looked at 292 sites across the country, from the desert outside Las Vegas to the Massachusetts coast. The researchers focused specifically on coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity.
Failure to clean up coal ash violates a federal rule passed in 2015 after a storm drain pipe burst at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station in North Carolina, spilling 39,000 tons of contaminant into the river Dan. Coal ash contains carcinogenic heavy metals such as arsenic and cobalt. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, toxic sludge from the spill spread more than 70 miles downstream, threatening the quality of drinking water for thousands of residents.
One of the aims of the 2015 rule was to end the industry practice of dumping coal ash in unlined ponds that allow the material to seep into groundwater, creating a hazard environment for nearby communities, and most businesses are now required to send their waste to safer locations. containment sites. However, the report found that utilities are not following other aspects of the federal rule, such as cleaning up contaminated sites and restoring groundwater.
“We know that groundwater contamination from these coal-fired power plants will get worse if nothing is done to control the source of pollution,” said Abel Russ, senior counsel at the Environmental Integrity Project and co-author of the report, in A press release. . “We have the ability to clean up these sites before they create a much bigger problem. If the industry just followed the rules, we could make significant progress.
The authors ranked the most contaminated sites in the country using data that power companies were required to make available due to the 2015 rule. Topping the list is the San Miguel plant, just south of San Antonio, Texas, and the Reid Gardner Power Plant, located on the Moapa Indian Reservation in southern Nevada. At both sites, the report cites failures to properly monitor and remove contaminants.
Mike Nasi, the San Miguel plant’s environmental adviser, called the report’s methodology flawed and said the company was working closely with regulators on remediation efforts. Jennifer Schricht, spokeswoman for the Reid Gardner Power Plant, also refuted the report, saying he disdained the company’s cleanup efforts, which include the disposal of more than 2 million cubic meters of toxic waste.
Coal ash contamination is not evenly distributed across the country. According to the report, about 70% of decommissioned power plants with coal ash ponds are located in low-income neighborhoods or in predominantly non-white census tracts. To help mitigate public health risks in these areas, the report’s authors developed a set of recommendations, including better federal oversight and enforceable cleanup schedules. Without these measures, they warn, these communities will have to endure the long-term effects of coal ash contamination.
“This report chronicles the bad faith of America’s big coal miners that has created public health and environmental issues that, in some cases, will take generations to resolve,” said Fred Tutman, founder of Patuxent Riverkeeper in Maryland. “It’s an ugly story and people need to take heed of it.”