DATE: March 4, 2019
SNIP: Almost every coal-fired power plant in the US is contaminating groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollution, according to the first comprehensive analysis of the consequences of coal ash waste disposal.
Of the 265 US power plants that monitor groundwater, 242 have reported unsafe levels of at least one pollutant derived from coal ash, which is the remnants of coal after it is burned for energy. More than half such facilities report unsafe levels of arsenic, a carcinogen linked to multiple types of cancer, with 60% finding elevated lithium, which is associated with neurological damage.
In all, nine out of every 10 coal plants with reportable data have tainted nearby groundwater with at least one coal ash pollutant, with a majority having unsafe levels of at least four different toxins.
“The pollution is basically everywhere you look,” said Abel Russ, attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), which compiled the analysis based on reports issued by individual power plants.
American coal plants produce about 100m tons of coal ash each year, with at least 2bn tons stored in pits of varying quality. Most coal ash pits are ageing and not lined with a protective substance that would prevent the ash seeping into streams and rivers.
A stew of pollutants emanate from coal ash, including cadmium, cobalt, chromium and lead, as well as arsenic and lithium. These toxins are linked to a range of health conditions, including cancers, kidney damage and developmental problems.