The toxic leftovers from burning coal for power are sitting in nearly 600 sites in 35 states, according to a federal survey released last month. Over the last decade spills have occurred at 34 of those sites. Many of the spills were minor compared with the disaster that occurred at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power plant in Kingston, Tennessee, that we have written about. The TVA spill, which flooded hundreds of acres of land, damaged homes and killed fish in nearby rivers, is not included in the data. But the spill resulted in the EPA’s March request of 61 power companies for information on how they manage coal combustion waste.
The federal survey is the most comprehensive list to date of coal ash storage sites and includes information submitted by 219 facilities. The EPA says that to date it had not received any information or detected any issues at the 584 coal ash storage sites identified that required immediate action. But environmental groups believe that the number of sites and the danger they pose to surrounding communities clearly reveals that coal ash ponds need federal regulation.
Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal that can include heavy metals and other toxic contaminants. Although the EPA has long recognized coal ash as a risk to human health and the environment, no federal regulations or standards govern its storage or disposal. I believe strong regulation is badly needed as well as inspections of all of the existing sites. The EPA is aware of 67 cases where coal ash has polluted or is suspected of polluting water. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said that the agency would consider federal rules. It will be interesting to see what happens on that front.
Source: Associated Press
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