Nearly 130 million tons of coal waste from existing plants already is being produced annually, most of which is disposed of in largely unregulated landfills, ponds and other locations, posing public health and environmental risks, the group warns.
Concern about coal waste arose after December 22, 2008, when a coal ash containment dike failed at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant releasing about 5.4 million cubic yards of ashy sludge over nearly 400 acres. TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant is located on the Emory River portion of Watts Bar Reservoir, close to where the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers meet near Kingston, Tennessee.
One of the dozens of specialized earth movers cleaning up the Kingston ash spill (Photo courtesy TVA)
Several dozen homes were damaged, and the TVA has worked with more than 600 families so far on questions, concerns, and property damage claims.
On March 5, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Department of Health, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a public meeting for the residents of Roane County, where the spill occurred. Officials at the meeting affirmed that public and private water supplies are not impacted by the ash. The amount of particulate matter and metals in air meet all standards and are below levels of health concern, they said.
Nevertheless, the Emory River will be dredged to remove coal ash, chemical dust suppressant has been sprayed in the area, and arsenic above the acceptable level for residential properties has been measured in area soil.
"Coal waste poses a large and unnecessary risk to people's health and the environment, and we need to act before another Kingston disaster strikes," said NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner. "The EPA took a big step forward by announcing it will regulate coal ash, but they need to quickly examine how coal waste is handled and ensure proper management and disposal are in place at all new plants."
Ash, a by-product of coal-fired power plants, is often stored on-site in containment areas. Many states allow coal waste to be dumped into poorly constructed landfills, ponds and old mines from which it can seep into groundwater, the NRDC warns.
The 15 states that would be the biggest polluters, which the environmental group has dubbed the "Filthy 15," have proposals for 54 coal plants that would create nearly 14 million tons of coal waste.
The 15 states with proposed plants that would produce largest amount of toxic materials is led by Texas with eight proposed coal-fired power plants, which the NRDC estimates would create 4,093,087 tons of coal ash waste each year.
Next on the list is South Dakota with two proposed plants that would create an estimated 952,630 tons of coal waste annually.
Third on the list is Florida, which plans three coal-burning power plants, that would create 911,118 tons of coal waste every year.
The rest of the 15 states on the list are, in descending order of amount of waste created: Ohio, Illinois, Nevada, Montana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Wyoming, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, West Virginia and Georgia.
The EPA conducted an assessment in 2007 that showed that certain types of ash disposal sites pose a cancer risk nearly 1,000 times the acceptable level. EPA also identified 24 sites in 13 states that are known or suspected to be contaminated by coal ash, but the agency has not been regulating coal ash disposal, instead allowing states to set their own regulations.
The new NRDC analysis shows that proposed coal plants would produce more than 18,000 tons annually of toxic metals - like arsenic, mercury, lead, and other toxic substances. The toxic metals that are often found in coal waste can pose serious health risks to people, especially children, including cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, damage to the nervous system and kidneys, and learning disabilities.
"There are cleaner, safer and more sustainable energy choices available," said Lehner. "America should be moving toward energy efficiency and renewable energy sources that will drive our economic recovery and meet the challenges of the 21st Century."
In conjunction with the new analysis, NRDC has a new website that includes a state-by-state breakdown of the total amount annually of waste, including toxic metals, from existing and proposed plants.
Click here for NRDC's complete list of states and national data.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.