Contact: Lisa Evans, Earthjustice (781) 631-4119
Eric Schaeffer, Environmental Integrity Project (202) 296-8800 Jeff Stant, Clean Air Task Force (317) 359-1306 Neil Carman, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter (512) 472-1767 or (512) 299-5776 cell
Ken Kramer, 512-476-6962 (office), 512-626-4204 (cell)
Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club, 512-477-1729 or
New EPA Risk Assessment finds extraordinary cancer risk; lack of federal regulations endanger U.S. water supplies Texas Number Two in the Nation with almost 13 Million Tons per year of Coal Ash Waste
(Washington, D.C./Austin, TX) -- The risk of getting cancer from coal ash lagoons is 10,000 times greater than government safety standards allow, according to a draft report from the Environmental Protection Agency obtained by an environmental group. Although the EPA acknowledges this risk, it has neglected to adopt regulations that will limit exposure and protect against the health threats of America's second-largest industrial solid waste stream, coal ash.
While EPA has not yet formally released the revised assessment, environmental groups received a summary of the draft, which indicates that the cancer risk for adults and children drinking groundwater contaminated with arsenic from coal combustion waste dumps can be as high as 1 in 100 - 10,000 times higher than EPA's regulatory goals for reducing cancer risks.
Coal combustion waste is the solid waste produced by coal-fired power plants, which produce approximately 129 million tons of the waste each year.
The waste is contaminated with toxic chemicals such as mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium and selenium. There are currently about 600 existing coal ash landfills and surface impoundments in the U.S. The EPA's failure to limit pollution from coal combustion waste, or coal ash, has poisoned surface and groundwater supplies in at least 23 states, by EPA's own admission.
There are currently plans to build over 150 coal-fired power plants in the United States by 2030. This includes 19 new coal plants proposed in Texas.
Pollution from coal ash impoundments will undoubtedly worsen unless the EPA takes the necessary steps to protect neighborhoods and communities from these dangerous pollution sources.
"Texas ranks Number One for burning more coal and lignite than any other state in the nation. Next to Kentucky, Texas is Number Two in hazardous coal-combustion waste generated at 12,943,000 tons per year!" said Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "The strip mines and the coal plant waste lagoons have been very poorly regulated. Now, energy companies want to build many more coal plants in the state and that presents serious problems besides dirty air from the millions of tons of smokestack emissions. If we build these plants, we would also have to contend with more polluted surface and groundwater from toxic coal ash waste disposal."
"We've seen surface water contamination by coal combustion waste and we're concerned that without better rules governing disposal of this waste, both our surface water and groundwater resources are in danger," said Travis Brown of Neighbors for Neighbors, a grassroots citizens' group.
Neighbors for Neighbors ranchers, farmers and rural residents based in Lee, Bastrop, and Milam counties in Texas have been fighting strip-mining, air pollution and coal waste dumping practices by Alcoa Corporation operating in their area for many years. TXU plans to build an additional coal fired power plant in the area - TXU Sandow 5.
"The E.P.A. report should cause great concern for Texans, especially those who live near seventeen existing coal plants and the related dumping grounds for coal combustion waste and those who live near proposed new coal plants."
A broad coalition of 27 environmental and public health groups, led by Earthjustice, Clean Air Task Force and the Environmental Integrity Project, recently submitted a proposal to EPA detailing ways to protect against pollution from the millions of tons of coal ash disposed annually by U.S.
coal-fired power plants. The groups also requested that EPA take immediate action to investigate and abate pollution at coal ash dump sites.
"It's very simple," said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. "Coal combustion waste currently disposed without adequate safeguards poses an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment in dozens of communities throughout the country. EPA has made no effort to protect the public against these pollution sources for over seven years. We believe it is time to act."
In 2000, EPA committed to establishing regulations for coal ash disposal.
Since then, the agency has met repeatedly with industrial polluters and will soon issue a Notice of Data Availability (NODA), which is expected to defer federal waste regulation in favor of a voluntary industry agreement.
However, the voluntary industry agreement, announced by a consortium of coal-fired electric utilities last fall, promises no controls on the hundreds of existing waste dumps and gives industry three years to place monitoring wells around dumps within a mile of drinking water sources.
Simple measures such as isolating the waste from groundwater, prohibiting dumping of coal ash in sand and gravel pits, and lining landfills and surface impoundments would have a huge impact on limiting pollution from these facilities.
"The people who are exposed to a greater cancer risk by drinking water poisoned by coal ash landfills and surface impoundments need to be heard,"
said Jeff Stant, Director of the Power Plant Waste-Safe Disposal Project for the Clean Air Task Force. "EPA has ignored affected communities for far too long."
"Many coal ash disposal sites lack the most basic safeguards such as liners, covers, and groundwater monitoring--standards that are routinely required for household trash at sanitary landfills," states Eric Schaeffer, Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. "In fact, in many cases, the operators are simply dumping the waste straight into groundwater and face no cleanup requirements by states."
The National Academies of Science (NAS) found in a March 2006 report studying the practice by utilities of dumping coal combustion wastes in coal mines, that high contaminant levels in leachate, or runoff, from coal ash dumps has contaminated drinking water and caused considerable environmental damage, including the local extinction of multiple species.
The NAS report cited EPA's commitment in 2000 to promulgate federal regulations to require adequate safeguards for disposal of toxic ash and called for the development of regulations mandating safeguards for minefilling. The Environmental Protection Agency, nevertheless, has neglected issuing these much needed safeguards.