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Coal Ash Disposal Needs Regulation
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by EarthJustice News Feed | 2009

Where is the worst place to store coal ash? How about the mines the coal came from?

Coal ash is toxic waste produced when coal is burned. Power plants store this waste in ash ponds, dry landfills, or coal mines. But Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project have found that mines are the worst place to put the waste.

Jeff Stant is the director of the Coal Combustion Waste Initiative at the Environmental Integrity Project. Researchers went to three mines in WV that stored coal ash. Research and monitoring data repeatedly documented that the Eastern mine acidity leads to high concentrations of copper, nickel and other metals from the coal ash leaching into groundwater.

In West Virginia, Marion, Monongalia and Preston counties have 80 of these sites, more than any other part of the state. The disposal sites are the result of a deal between many power plants and coal operators.

Since the 1970s as power plants have attempted to control their emissions, they produce more coal combustion waste and have sought inexpensive ways to get rid of it. Increasingly coal strip mine operators have found that providing their mines as the dumping ground helps them sell their coal to the power plants.

People who live downstream from these mines may be exposed to toxic levels of several pollutants. Congressman Joe Rahall has introduced a bill to regulate liquid coal ash impoundments, but this would not address the dry storage of coal ash or storage in mines.

Overall pollution. Between 2000 and 2006, the power industry reported depositing coal ash containing more than 124 million pounds of the following six toxic pollutants into surface impoundments: arsenic, chromium, lead, nickel, selenium, and thallium. These pollutants are present in coal ash, prone to leaching from ash into the environment and highly toxic at minute levels (parts per million or billion) to either humans or aquatic life, or both.

The Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws.

EIP has three goals: 1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.

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