The endless plumes of smoke billowing out of coal power plants across the country aren’t the only polluting by-product of dirty coal—the process also leaves behind massive heaps of ash containing dangerously toxic pollutants including lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury.
That’s right, coal ash contains horrifically poisonous substances—but it’s still not federally regulated as toxic waste. Instead, coal ash is recklessly dumped in ponds and near schools and neighborhoods. Thousands of tons of coal ash are recklessly dumped into inadequate coal ash storage sites across the country near ponds, schools, and neighborhoods.
Industry and government regulators often calculate “risks” of being exposed to a toxic chemical. One of the reasons they do this is because it’s usually easy for them to come up with numbers that make the problem seem unimportant: “Only 1.47 extra cases of cancer per million people exposed. Not a problem.” (Unless of course you’re the person with the cancer, but that’s another story.) But in the case of coal ash, the regulators did the risk assessment and the numbers were startling and the opposite of comforting. For children who get drinking water from a well near a coal ash pond the “risk” they calculated was nightmarish, nine out of every thousand children would end up with cancer. This is nine times the official risk from smoking a pack of cigarettes every day.
Another huge risk–The sites also put these communities at-risk of massive disaster spills, like the spill in Tennessee in 2008.
Forty miles west of Knoxville, one the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history unfolded at the Kingston Fossil Plant, when a massive coal ash storage pond ruptured and collapsed. A toxic tidal wave of 5.4 million cubic yards of wet coal ash poured across the Emory River to the residential neighborhood nearby, damaging an entire neighborhood and leaving three homes uninhabitable. It tore trees down, ruptured a major gas line, washed out roads and a railway, and destroyed major power lines. A test of the soil around houses near the spill showed elevated levels of arsenic, a cancer-causing metal, and thallium, which damages sperm. Today, the town is still in the midst of a $825 million cleanup of their neighborhoods and river.
At the end of this week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be considering new safety standards to protect children, families, and communities from toxic coal ash.
The coal industry has fought relentlessly against this potential “hazardous waste” designation, since it would bring more stringent federal regulation of disposal of coal ash.
But community members and individuals who have been personally impacted by the health threats of coal ash sites have fought back, showing powerful support for the creation of stronger federal regulations. Don’t wait another minute—take action now to join the thousands who have already expressed their support. Tell EPA: Protect Communities from Toxic Coal Ash!