Coal Ash: One More Reason to Quit Coal
by Alison Kole
September 22, 2010
Yesterday, as part of a series of EPA public hearings on coal ash, Greenpeace along with area residents and a coalition of local and national environmental groups gathered in Pittsburgh, PA to tell the EPA about the hazards of coal ash and the damage taking place in nearby communities. Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal, is often stored in unsafe waste ponds contaminating water, the food chain, and all too often through transport, accidents, or poor clean up by state officials comes in direct physical contact with people in communities. The toxic elements in coal ash, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium and others, have been linked to cancer, organ disease, respiratory illness, neurological damage, and reproductive and developmental problems. People living near unlined coal ash ponds, where water is contaminated by arsenic and ash is mixed with coal refuse, have an extremely high risk of cancer, up to 1 in 50. This is 2000 times greater than EPAs acceptable cancer risk
Across the country, people are demanding that coal ash be regulated under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as special waste with all the safeguards that apply. At the moment, coal ash has ducked federal regulation and convinced officials of its beneficial use used as anti-skidding agent on roadways, to line walking trails (even as part of the DC to Pittsburgh rails to trails!), to fill golf courses, and make cement. This means, its not just communities with unsafe waste ponds that come into contact with this hazardous material.
The lack of federally enforceable safeguards is exactly what led to the disaster in 2008 in Tennessee, where a dam holding more than 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash failed, destroying 300 acres, dozens of homes, killed fish and other wildlife, and poisoned the Emory and Clinch Rivers. See Photos.
In Pittsburgh, residents living near hazardous dams came to testify. Many of the people found out they were living near a coal ash waste dump only after it spilled into their yards, or they began to feel serious health effects. Individuals said that the food in they grow in the backyard is no longer safe, and that family members have arsenic levels 10x that of the “safe” levels set by the EPA. All day on Tuesday, community members and environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Restoring Eden, the Environmental Justice Project testified to the EPA delegates about the failure of the State Department of Environment and the need to classify coal ash, a toxic by product of burning coal as hazardous waste. Your voice can be heard next. Final public hearings will take place in Louisville, KY on September 28th and Knoxville, TN on October 25th.