FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 8, 2010
Eva Hernandez, Field Organizing Manager, Sierra Club 512-299-1550
Donna Hoffman, Communications Coordinator, Sierra Club 512-299-5776
Hundreds of Concerned Citizens Demand EPA Protections from
Toxic Coal Ash
Residents speak out for community health at Environmental Protection Agency public hearing in Dallas
Dallas, Texas – Hundreds of concerned citizens gathered in Dallas on Wednesday, September 8, 2010 urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pass strong, federally-enforceable safeguards for coal ash, the hazardous remains left over from coal-fired power plants. Citizens traveled to Dallas from all over Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana to demand strong coal ash safeguards during a public hearing, one of seven the EPA is holding this month on its proposal to finally regulate toxic coal ash.
For many it was an emotional day, after traveling hundreds of miles to tell their stories- stories of how coal ash has been detrimental to their quality of life. Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Michael Brune spoke at the morning’s press conference. “There
are very real health and environmental risks posed by toxic
coal ash,” said Brune, “I
am here today to urge the EPA to approve a rule that will
ensure that the byproduct of burning coal is handled like
the toxic substance that it is.”
Texas ranks second in the country for coal ash generation. In Texas alone, 35 coal ash ponds and landfills have been identified so far. A recently released investigative report In Harm’s Way documented the growing problem of toxic coal ash contamination across the United States.
“Coal ash disposal in Texas is unregulated and that
is dangerous and unacceptable in one of the states with the
most coal plants in the nation. Coal ash impoundments leach
toxins into ground water. All the people near the plants
in our county get their drinking water from ground water,” said Paul Rolke resident of Franklin, Texas, and President of Robinson County: Our Land, Our Lives. “A
few years ago, truckloads of coal ash were added to the dirt
on the county road that leads to my ranch. As a result of
this so called beneficial use, my family and I inhaled the
dangerous chemicals in the ash for years. The ash is hazardous
and should be treated that way.”
Coal ash is the America’s second largest industrial waste stream, with enough coal ash generated each year – approximately 150 million tons – to fill over 340,000, jumbo 747 jets.
Toxic chemicals in coal ash such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium and others, have been linked to human health problems including cancer, organ disease, respiratory illness, neurological damage and reproductive and developmental problems. Studies show that these coal ash toxins can, and have, leaked into drinking water across the country. EPA’s 2010 risk assessment found that the cancer risk from drinking water contaminated with arsenic from coal ash disposed in unlined ponds is as high as 1 in 50 adults, 2,000 times the level the EPA deems “acceptable.”
“I asked my 5th and 6th grade students if any of
them have respiratory problems: nine out of seventeen have
asthma,” said Diane Reece, who teaches at Bokoshe School 1.5 miles north of the fly ash dump in town. “I
believe fly ash is hurting my students.”
Despite the dangers, until today toxic coal ash waste has been left mostly unregulated. The lack of federally enforceable safeguards tragically led to a spill of more than 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash from a pond near Knoxville, Tennessee in 2008, that destroyed 300 acres and dozens of homes, killed fish and other wildlife, and poisoned the Emory and Clinch Rivers.
On September 8th, local and state elected officials, scientists and legal experts, and Sierra Club members also participated in the EPA hearing and urged the EPA to pass strong, enforceable federal regulations of coal ash.
“Coal ash dumps that sit around the country are ticking
time bombs,” said Dr. J.P. Bell of Arkansas. “We should learn lessons from past environmental disasters, like the mining of asbestos in Libby, Montana in the 1950s and 60s, where communities are still paying the price. It’s
important for the federal agency that has been entrusted
with the health of Americans to choose the more stringent
option for regulating coal ash.”
Currently the EPA is weighing two options for federal regulation of coal ash. While one option the EPA proposed would regulate this toxic substance with strong safeguards that protect public health, including water quality monitoring, record keeping and protections against runoff, the other – supported by power companies and other big polluters – would retain the failed status quo and do nothing to monitor the coal ash threat to our drinking water and health.