June 20, 2018 Read More →

Industry data show widespread contamination from coal ash

West Virginia Public Radio:

For generations, coal power has fueled American prosperity. But for each shovelful thrown into the furnaces, a pile of ash was left in its place. Today, as coal’s dominance in the power sector wanes, those piles of ash have grown into mountains as coal ash became one of the largest waste streams in the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hundreds of waste ponds and landfills, many constructed without liners to prevent leaks, dot the American landscape, especially in the coal-rich Ohio Valley. And the ash they contain includes the concentrated remains of the many toxic compounds associated with coal and its combustion, such as arsenic, lead, and radium.

The Ohio Valley ReSource and partner station WFPL analyzed newly available data from groundwater monitoring wells near ash disposal sites in the region and found that most show signs of leaking contaminants. At several sites, hazardous compounds are found in groundwater at levels that far exceed federal drinking water standards.

What the first round of monitoring data revealed is a toxic blend of coal ash chemicals that appear to be leaching into groundwater across the country. Environmental advocates say the data demonstrate that contamination is ubiquitous, not just in the Ohio Valley but at coal ash sites around the United States.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law center, found 92 percent of sites showed evidence of contamination in a review of 100 sites across the country. “And this is industry produced data,” Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, emphasized. “Data is showing us that across the board there was groundwater contamination at almost every site in the country,” she said.

In Kentucky and West Virginia, every power plant covered under the EPA rules had coal ash waste sites with evidence of contaminated groundwater, according to the analysis by WFPL and the Ohio Valley ReSource. Already, three sites in Ohio, four sites in West Virginia and 11 sites in Kentucky have said they will do more testing after finding evidence of possible groundwater contamination.

More: Coal ash uncovered: New data reveal widespread contamination at Ohio Valley sites

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