GREEN

Coal Ash, Power Plant Waste Product, Taints More U.S. Sites, Report Finds

12/13/2011 06:08 pm ET | Updated Feb 13, 2012

* Power plant waste product newly detected in 10 states

* EPA, watchdog group see total 157 contaminated sites

* Those who live near coal ash oppose bill in Senate

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Toxic contamination from
coal ash, a waste product of coal-fired power plants, has been
detected in ground water and soil at 20 sites in 10 U.S.
states, an environmental watchdog group reported Tuesday.

These sites are the latest to contribute to a total of 157
identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the
independent Environmental Integrity Project, which released the
report.

Coal ash is left after coal is burned at power plants and
has concentrations of heavy metals and salts that can leach
into the environment unless disposed of properly in ponds with
liners and covers, said Jeff Stant, the report's editor.

But most states do not require ponds to be lined, have any
construction standards or any monitoring or cleanup
requirements, Stant said, adding that almost half the wastes
from coal-burning in the United States are dumped this way.

Nineteen of the 20 newly identified sites show ground water
contaminated with arsenic or other toxic metals exceeding the
maximum contaminant level set out in the Safe Drinking Water
Act.

The 20th site showed contaminated soil with arsenic 900
times the federal screening level for site cleanups, the report
said.

Those who live near these sites, including three people who
spoke at a briefing, reported contaminated streams, respiratory
problems and air pollution powerful enough to turn a white
house black. In one case, a rancher said he closely monitors
the amount of sulfate in the water his cattle drink because
this chemical can reach lethal levels.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN

The Environmental Integrity Project released an open letter
to Congress signed by more than 2,000 people living near coal
ash sites, decrying ``legislation that would stop EPA in its
tracks and replace real standards with imaginary state 'plans'
that polluters could ignore ...''

Stant and others noted at a briefing that the House of
Representatives has passed and the Senate is considering
legislation that the environmental group said would give the
states, instead of the federal government, authority to address
the problem of coal ash contamination of water and soil.

``We already have here a clear and present danger to
America's public health,'' Stant said at a telephone briefing.
''It is no solution for Congress to hand authority for
addressing the problem permanently to states that have refused
to enforce common-sense standards for the last 30 years and
hope that the whole problem goes away.''

John Ward, of the American Coal Ash Association, disputed
that interpretation of the measure now in Congress.

``There are no federal standards for coal ash right now,''
Ward said by telephone. ``This bill would also expand EPA's
enforcement authority from what it is now.''

Ward noted that coal ash is generated in vast quantities
and can be reprocessed into such consumer goods as wallboard
and shingles.

``We think the solution to coal ash problems is to stop
throwing it away, to alleviate the need to have these disposal
ponds at all,'' Ward said.

The full Environmental Integrity Project report is
available online at http://environmentalintegrity.org.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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