Environment & Health

News Outlets Cover Local Effects of Toxic Coal Ash

Two local news outlets picked up on a report last week detailing the damages of coal ashcontamination. Both The Michigan Messenger and The New Mexico Independent used the opportunity to cover the impact of coal ash in their communities detailed in the report.

In Michigan, the Messenger points to an ash dump where arsenic has been detected in nearby groundwater at levels 44 times the federal limit. Other toxics found in the water included boron and lithium.

In New Mexico, the Independent looks at a case where the Sierra Club plans to sue a coal company, alleging that one of its coal ash dumps is contaminating water supplies. In that case, state government apparently does not dispute that the contamination exists, but has not concluded the source of the pollution.

The report, released by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, draws attention to the dangers of coal ash and looks at 31 sites across the country “that are known to have contaminated groundwater, wetlands, creeks, or rivers.”

The issue gained national attention when more than a billion gallons of ash and water burst through a dyke and into the Emory River in December 2008. That spill released some of the same toxic chemicals into a Tennessee community and waterway, causing a disaster still not fully cleaned up even a year later, according to a recent report by the Institute for Southern Studies. That story shows how the Tennessee Valley Authority, the utility responsible for the spill, broke its promise of a quick cleanup and has failed to fairly compensate all the property owners in the area.

Coal ash is a national problem, with nearly 600 waste disposal sites around the country, 49 of which the EPA classifies as high hazard, where a spill would likely kill people. And yet the federal government does not regulate this byproduct of burning coal as toxic waste, leaving regulation to the states. A series in The Nation Magazine, with support from the Investigative Fund, covered many of the failures in regulation—or in some cases self-regulation—that led to the spill and the shortcomings of the cleanup. The series shows how the state-regulation model simply doesn’t work. And Tennessee is not the only problem site.

The EPA was supposed to issue a proposal for regulating coal ash late last year, but deferred the decision. The agency is expected to release a proposal soon that will likely recommend some form of federal regulation.

About the reporter

Nicholas Kusnetz

Nicholas Kusnetz

Nicholas Kusnetz is a freelance journalist in New York.

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