Coal ash, the toxic waste produced by coal-fired power plants continues to plague communities across the country. A new study, conducted by Dr. Dennis Lemly, research associate professor of Biology at Wake Forest University and a leading expert on selenium poisoning, found that selenium from coal ash discharges into Sutton Lake near Wilmington, N.C., is killing more than 900,000 fish each year and causing deformities in thousands more. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘Water Pollution’
Contact: Erin Savage, Water Quality Specialist, 828-262-1500, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, email@example.com
Washington DC – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today approved Kentucky’s changes to how the state measures selenium, a toxic pollutant discharged from many mountaintop removal coal mines. Even at very low concentrations, selenium is extremely toxic to fish, causing physical deformities and reproductive failure.
Kentucky had proposed, and today EPA approved, a more complicated system for detecting selenium. The new rule will require testing for the pollutant in fish tissue rather than more straightforward tests that directly sample the concentration in water.
The decision bodes ill for Virginia and West Virginia, whose regulators are poised to begin their own review of how to monitor and regulate selenium in those states.
Kentucky has a history of major problems with enforcement of the Clean Water Act with regards to coal mining. Appalachian Voices, in 2010, exposed thousands of Clean Water Act violations by major coal companies in Kentucky and the failure of state regulators to take enforcement action. Subsequent legal action by Appalachian Voices and a coalition of other groups ultimately led to the largest Clean Water Act fine ever levied in Kentucky against the coal industry.
Appalachian Voices issued the following statement from Erin Savage, Water Quality Specialist on today’s EPA decision:
“The EPA has acted in direct contradiction to its mission by allowing Kentucky to weaken environmental protection for the streams and rivers that Kentuckians use every day for drinking water, fishing, swimming and many other uses.
“Kentucky has proven it can’t, or won’t, sufficiently enforce relatively simple environmental rules. While this new selenium standard may be scientifically defensible, according to the EPA, it is so complicated that it will be difficult to implement and virtually unenforceable. It is unlikely the state has the ability, or the intent, to keep selenium pollution out of the water.
“This sends a signal to other states like Virginia and West Virginia that they, too, can weaken environmental protection for the streams and rivers that their citizens use every day for drinking water, fishing, swimming and many other uses.
“The complex new rule will also make it extremely difficult for citizens to exercise their rights under the Clean Water Act to protect waters they care about.”
Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Knoxville, Tn. and Washington, D.C.
Just today, after several months of delays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decisions on the Kentucky Department of Water’s (DOW) amendments to the Kentucky Water Quality Regulations. Unfortunately, the EPA has approved substantive changes to the selenium freshwater chronic standard that will not adequately protect aquatic life and will be difficult, if not impossible to enforce at mountaintop removal coal mining sites throughout eastern Kentucky.
In theory, states review their water quality standards every three years in an effort to make sure these standards are up-to-date with current science and are protective of aquatic life. In some cases, however, the review becomes an opportunity for special interests to influence state agencies. This year, under pressure from the coal industry, the Kentucky DOW proposed to weaken selenium standards. Standards are used to set permit limits for industries that may discharge pollutants into public waterways. Though some mines in Kentucky are known to discharge selenium into streams, the Kentucky general permit for valley fills does not currently include selenium permit limits.
Selenium is a naturally occurring element that can be released into streams through mountaintop removal coal mining. Once in the water, selenium bioaccumulates in fish and other aquatic life, increasing in concentration up the food chain. Selenium is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels. For these reasons, Appalachian Voices and our allies have been working to challenge Kentucky’s proposed selenium standards.
Kentucky DOW proposed to raise the acute selenium standard from 20 ug/L in the water column to 258 ug/L in the water column. They also proposed changing the chronic standard of 5 ug/L to a more complicated system where a level of 5 ug/L in the water column would not be enforceable, but instead would trigger the need to sample fish tissue. The new chronic standard would be 8.6 ug/g in fish tissue, or 19.2 ug/g in egg/ovary tissue. The 5 ug/L water concentration would only be an enforceable limit if no fish were available for sampling.
By Sarah Kellogg
Four out of five power plants currently have no limits on the levels of heavy metals they can dump into rivers and lakes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, is preparing to change that, and in the process they are hearing from impacted citizens around the country.
Since June, more than 165,000 people have submitted comments to the EPA regarding its efforts to regulate the toxic wastewater produced by coal-fired power plants. In April, the agency proposed a range of options to reduce toxic discharges into waterways. The proposal constitutes the first update in three decades of the wastewater regulations under the Clean Water Act.
The proposed effluent limitation guidelines have the potential to protect more than 23,000 miles of waterways from up to 5.3 billion tons of toxic wastewater per year.
Appalachian Voices, the publisher of The Appalachian Voice, assisted North Carolina citizens living near coal-fired power plants in voicing their concerns to the EPA. Many were worried that water pollution may be impacting their drinking water and local waterways.
Carl Dale Beck, of Belmont, N.C., lives near Duke Energy’s G.G. Allen Steam Station. Coal ash waste is stored just across the street from his home, and G.G. Allen’s current wastewater permit allows the facility to discharge toxic chemicals directly into the Catawba River.
Like many in the area, Beck’s water comes from a private well, leaving him worried about potential water contamination caused by coal ash waste seeping into the groundwater. Coal ash is laden with toxicants including arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium and selenium and, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility, has “the potential to injure all of the major organ systems, damage physical health and development, and even contribute to mortality.”
Wayne Watkins, a Vietnam War veteran, lives near Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station in Pine Hall, N.C. Watkins is originally from the area, and moved back in 1994 to live in the house his grandfather built.
When he first returned, Watkins was excited to catch his own dinner from Belews Lake near his home. However, he began to worry when he started seeing fish that appeared twisted and deformed.
Watkins was not aware of the selenium poisoning that occurred from the Belews Steam Station’s discharge of toxic waste water directly into Belews Lake from 1974 to 1985. During that time, the lake became so toxic that 18 of its 20 fish species died off.
Susan Fischer lives about a quarter of a mile from the coal ash impoundment at Duke’s Asheville Steam Station. Although she is on municipal water supply, she is concerned because the current wastewater permit for the coal-fired utility allows it to discharge directly into the French Broad with few limits on what heavy metals the wastewater may contain.
“Clean water is an economic boost for us in northwest North Carolina in particular,” writes Fischer. “The French Broad River brings in a lot of income to our area, with lots of boaters and kayakers who love the river. We have worked hard to clean the river up … are we going to be made to spend more money to clean up after Duke Energy? They should be required to use the best technology to keep their waste out of the water.”
If the strongest proposed regulatory options pass, it will cost power companies less than one percent of their revenue to protect the nation’s waterways from the toxic waste water that, according to the EPA, accounts for 60 percent of all the water pollution in the country.
Debate Surrounds Duke Energy Coal Ash Settlement
By Kimber Ray
Responding to an unprecedented flood of public comments, North Carolina officials recommended several changes in September to tighten a proposed coal ash contamination settlement with Duke Energy. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources filed a lawsuit against the utility in March concerning groundwater contamination from coal ash ponds at Duke’s Asheville Steam Electric Generating Plant in Buncombe County and Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County.
The state initially proposed that Duke pay a $99,000 fine and investigate the source and extent of groundwater pollution. Concerned citizens and environmental groups considered the settlement insufficient given current evidence indicating the scope of water contamination.
During the 30-day public comment period that ended Aug. 14, the DENR received nearly 5,000 comments, which included calls for Duke to enact a full cleanup and receive a greater fine. Based on these comments, the state added stronger language and tighter deadlines regarding Duke’s water contamination monitoring.
Many environmental groups remain dissatisfied, criticizing the changes as minor tweaks that fail to address wastewater discharges to adjacent bodies of water. “(The state) disregarded the views of thousands of North Carolinians and has failed to require Duke Energy to clean up its pollution of Mountain Island Lake, the Charlotte region’s drinking water supply,” Frank Holleman, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney, told the Charlotte Observer.
Tests of local wells three years ago revealed levels of contamination associated with coal ash to be well above state health standards. Toxic contaminants were also found in both the French Broad River and Mountain Island Lake; Duke disputes the significance of this contamination.
In the Charlotte Observer, Duke Energy spokeswoman Erin Culbert expressed approval of the proposed settlement, stating that “regulators need the outcomes of these studies to make informed decisions about whether corrective steps are needed, and what those are.”
By Kimber Ray
A federal lawsuit alleges that Jacobs Engineering Group knowingly exposed workers to toxic substances during cleanup of the 2008 coal fly ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn.
The lawsuit, filed Aug. 22, claims Jacobs Engineering deliberately misrepresented the health hazards of fly ash, failed to provide adequate protection to workers, and engaged in improper air quality monitoring. According to the Knox News, the cleanup crew was told that “you could drink fly ash daily and suffer no adverse health effects.”
Workers contend that not only were requests for protective equipment such as dust masks and respirators denied, but also that some workers prescribed such equipment by their doctors were ordered not to wear it.
Jacobs Engineering is also implicated in manipulating air monitoring systems to cover up the extent of hazardous site conditions. To prevent dust movement near the air monitors, the company kept the area near the monitors wet and placed the systems in locations with favorable wind conditions.
While a number of research studies warned of the health hazards posed by coal ash, Dr. Gregory Button, of the University of Tennessee, told the Times Free Press that the TVA assisted government officials in authoring a report that found no harm to the community’s health was expected from the spill.
Mining Waste Polluting the New River
Despite mounting evidence that dangerously high levels of zinc are flowing into Appalachia’s New River from the Indian Branch tributary in Wythe County, Va., Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has done little to address the issue.
Local citizens began expressing concerns to the department earlier this year when dissolved minerals in the water caused a milky discoloration. At that time, the level of zinc in Indian Branch was over 30 times the EPA established safe limit. By July that level had soared to 130 times the allowable limit.
A former zinc mine site, now owned by Dixon Lumber Company, was identified as the source of the pollution. A pipe that channeled Indian Branch beneath a field of mine tailings had a leak that was complicated by this year’s unusually heavy rains, contaminating the waterway.
Zinc poisoning can result in headaches, nausea and diarrhea; long-term exposure compromises immunity and cardiovascular health.
Following a Washington Times article by Lisa King regarding the zinc contamination, the department has met with associates from Dixon Lumber to establish a plan for addressing water quality issues.
Summer Rains Dampen Fall Colors
Among the vibrant display of autumn leaves, red may be missing from this season’s palette. According to Kathy Mathews, an associate professor of biology at Western Carolina University, there are three main factors that bestow red coloration: ample sunshine, dry air, and cool temperatures. With this year’s uncommonly wet summer, yellow and orange could be the dominant fall colors. However, the cool nights of September might yet redeem the brilliant reds of fall.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C. – A federal judge agreed with environmental and public health groups that the Environmental Protection Agency needs to set federal regulations for the safe and proper disposal of toxic coal ash. A copy of the judge’s order can be found here: http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/RCRA_NOI_Order.pdf
The groups filed the lawsuit in April 2012 challenging the EPA’s lack of federal regulations for America’s second largest industrial waste stream.
The order of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia offered little details about the timing or substance of the EPA’s rulemaking but said it will issue a Memorandum Opinion within the next 30 days with more specifics. For now, the decision marks the first step towards federally enforceable safeguards, monitoring, and protections against coal ash. In its order, the court did deny one of the environmentalists claims regarding testing procedures for coal ash contamination, but more details are needed before the groups are fully able to understand the implications.
Coal ash has already contaminated more than 200 rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers with toxic pollutants like arsenic, lead, selenium and mercury. In 2008, a spill at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tennessee, dumped one billion gallons of coal ash over 300 acres, destroying homes and poisoning rivers. That spill led to the EPA proposing in May 2010 the first federal regulations for coal ash disposal. The agency never finalized that rulemaking, leaving open the opportunity for the power generating industry and some members of Congress to push for legislation that would prevent the EPA from ever setting federal regulations.
The following statement is from the groups that filed the lawsuit: Appalachian Voices (NC); Chesapeake Climate Action Network (MD); Environmental Integrity Project (DC); Earthjustice (DC); French Broad Riverkeeper (NC); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KY); Moapa Band of Paiutes (NV); Montana Environmental Information Center (MT); Prairie Rivers Network (IL); Sierra Club (DC); and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (eight southeast states):
“The impacts of coal ash pollution are being felt across the country. Our groups represent millions of Americans who want clean water, clean air and healthy living. We turned to the courts to force the EPA to set long overdue protections from this toxic menace. This decision marks the first step towards federally enforceable safeguards from coal ash. For decades, coal ash has been dumped into unlined and unmonitored pits, poisoning water supplies and the communities that rely on them. No one should have to live in fear of the coal ash dump in their backyard, and we hope the EPA will finally adopt regulations that protect all nearby communities.”
For information about coal ash in North Carolina, Maryland, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, Illinois, Tennessee or other southern states, as well as the implications this decision will have locally, please contact the following representatives
Sandra Diaz, Appalachian Voices, (828) 262-1500; firstname.lastname@example.org (North Carolina)
Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, (703) 772-2472; Diana@chesapeakeclimate.org (Maryland)
Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper, (828) 258-8737; email@example.com (North Carolina)
Mary Love, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, (502) 541-7434; firstname.lastname@example.org (Kentucky)
William Anderson, Moapa Band of Paiutes (702) 865-2787; email@example.com (Nevada)
Anne Hedges, Montana Environmental Information Center, (406) 443-2520; firstname.lastname@example.org (Montana)
Traci Barkley, Prairie Rivers Network, (217) 621-3013; email@example.com (Illinois)
Ulla Reeves, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, (828) 713-7486; firstname.lastname@example.org (Southeast)
For information about the lawsuit, federal legislation, or the status of the pending EPA regulation, please contact the following representatives:
Jennifer Duggan, Environmental Integrity Project (802) 225-6774; email@example.com
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 236-5855; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Sarah, Sierra Club (202) 548-4589; email@example.com
By Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist
The lawsuits between Appalachian Voices and partners and Frasure Creek Mining read like the most complicated court crime novel, with fascinating — but slow-moving — plot twists galore. In mid-July, the latest development occurred when a circuit court judge blocked an attempt by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to toss the groups out of court proceedings, effectively keeping Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance in the mix.
To provide some background, in October of 2010, the four environmental groups filed a legal action against Frasure Creek for submitting false water monitoring reports, which included duplicated data. Almost immediately following the lawsuit, the coal mining company’s water quality monitoring reports (also known as DMRs) which previously did not indicate any water quality violations, began showing hundreds of water quality violations every month when the company switched labs.
The environmental alliance then attempted to sue Frasure Creek for the subsequent violations, but the Kentucky cabinet filed a complaint in state administrative court for the same violations, effectively blocking a new lawsuit. Appalachian Voices and partners won the right to intervene, making them full parties to the case. But then, without the environmental alliance’s knowledge or consent, Frasure Creek and the cabinet entered into a slap-on-the-wrist settlement. Because Appalachian Voices and partners were completely excluded from the settlement they were parties to, they challenged this settlement in Franklin Circuit Court.
Which brings us back to the present. Earlier this year, the state cabinet requested that the court dismiss the group’s challenge of the settlement, a request Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd recently denied, ruling in favor of the environmental groups. In short, the ruling means the alliance of groups will now be allowed to proceed with their argument that the settlement between the state and Frasure Creek should be rejected.
Stay up-to-date on legal proceedings through our Appalachian Water Watch program at appvoices.org/waterwatch.
Researchers at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment identified three unique isotopes, or irregularly formed elements, that seem to have a direct correlation with mountaintop removal coal mines. The isotopes identified were sulfate, strontium, and inorganic carbon — all occur naturally but are found in unusually high concentrations adjacent to mountaintop removal sites.
Dr. Avner Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry at Duke and author of the new study, believes that measuring these isotopes can not only help identify the degree of contamination within watersheds, but also determine how much of the contamination is directly affiliated with mountaintop removal.
We’ve written before on the Front Porch Blog about the need to dramatically strengthen federal limits for wastewater discharges from the nation’s power plants, which account for roughly two-thirds of all toxics that wind up in America’s rivers, streams and other waters. In June, the Environmental Protection Agency, finally, issued a proposal to update the 30-year-old discharge rule.
While not perfect, the proposed “effluent limit guidelines,” or ELG rule, would go a long way to reducing the discharge of toxics, including mercury, selenium, arsenic and lead, to name just a few. The EPA included several different options for electric utilities to achieve the pollution reductions.
This afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2218, a bill that strips the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate coal ash. The bill fails to protect human health and the environment from the unsafe disposal of toxic coal ash waste.
The bill’s supporters, led by bill author Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), continue to claim that the bill provides “minimum federal standards” while keeping states in the driver’s seat in regulating coal ash disposal. They even claim that states know best, and have done a good job so far. This is most certainly not the case, and state failures are well documented.
The bill’s true purpose is to stop the EPA from classifying coal ash as a hazardous material and implementing federal regulations to govern its disposal. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) repeatedly said of amendments that increased EPA oversight of state programs that they would “undercut” the purpose of the bill. In other words, the bill was not passed to ensure the safety of coal ash disposal sites or to protect human health and the environment. The only thing it accomplishes is stopping the EPA from creating a rule that the coal and utility industries would not like.
We will now turn to the U.S. Senate and work to ensure that it does not take up the bill, but instead supports the EPA’s authority and mandate to protect human health and the environment with enforceable federal standards.