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Is there a coal ash basin near you? Check this card.


Alabama Power, the state’s largest utility, owns the waste site, which has no liner to contain the ash and contaminates groundwater.

Federal regulations have required Alabama Power to shut down the pond, which it plans to do by sealing the coal ash in place. Environmental groups have asked the utility to dig it up and move it to a safer site.

The problem is not unique to Alabama. Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial waste in the United States, and hundreds of coal ash ponds dot the country, according to data that federal regulations require pit operators to release and have been compiled by Earthjustice, a nonprofit organization that manages environmental lawsuits. As a result of federal regulatory changes, many utilities are wondering what to do with massive amounts of material that have built up over decades.

Coal ash is an umbrella term for the residue that remains when utilities burn coal. It contains metals – such as lead, mercury, chromium, selenium, cadmium, and arsenic – that never biodegrade. Studies have shown that these contaminants are dangerous to humans and have linked some to cancer, lung disease and birth defects.

There are several types of coal ash, including fly ash, which is fine and powdery, heavy and coarse tail ash, and boiler slag, which is melted tail ash. There is also flue gas desulfurization gypsum, also known as FGD gypsum, which remains when utilities use scrubbers to reduce emissions during the coal combustion process.
The coal ash recycling industry is important. According to the American Coal Ash Association, utilities produced 78.6 million tonnes of coal ash in 2019. More than half was made into other materials such as cement, grout and wallboard.

What is a coal ash basin?

Before the 1970s, many utilities pumped their waste coal into the atmosphere, said lawyer Lisa Evans, who has focused on coal ash litigation for more than 20 years and works for Earthjustice.

After Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970, which regulated air emissions from power plants, some facilities began storing much of their coal ash in earth ditches, now commonly known as ash ponds. or surface retention basins.

Some of them are great. The only CNN reviewed in Alabama spans 597 acres and is almost the size of the National Mall.

Why is it a problem?

There are approximately 511 coal ash ponds in the United States, according to a CNN analysis of data compiled by Earthjustice.

Coal-fired power plants generate electricity by burning coal to heat water, which becomes steam and passes through a turbine to generate electricity. For this reason, many coal-fired power stations have been built near river systems.

Environmentalists often raise two major concerns about coal ash ponds: They can contaminate groundwater, and infrastructure could fail and trigger a catastrophic spill.

Earthjustice data shows that, like the Alabama Pond in the CNN survey, nearly half – about 46% – of known ponds are unpaved and have been or will be closed in place.

Conservationists say that in-place capping, the plan Alabama Power has chosen, is not always an effective option for coal ash ponds where the coal ash is below the water table, the point in below which the floor is saturated with water, as the ceiling does not prevent contaminants from seeping into the surrounding area.

In the United States, 40 or fewer ponds have a protective coating to contain the ash, and more than 200 have been shown to contaminate groundwater with toxic substances at levels exceeding federal safety standards, according to data from Earthjustice.

Humans can be exposed to leachate from coal ash ponds primarily through drinking water, particularly through private water wells which may not be monitored like public systems are, or by consuming fish that have been affected. (In written responses to CNN, an Alabama Power spokesperson said the pond featured in CNN’s investigation had no impact on any source of drinking water.)

There have been coal ash disasters in the past. In 2008, a spill near Kingston, Tennessee covered up to 400 acres in coal ash, killing hundreds of fish, damaging more than a dozen homes and polluting nearby waterways. The cleanup took years and cost over $ 1 billion.

After the Kingston disaster, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) examined the condition of dams in more than 500 coal ash ponds across the United States. And in 2015, the agency implemented its first-ever regulations on coal ash disposal.

The regulation – known as the ‘coal combustion residue’ rule or CCR – forced utilities to shut down or remediate ponds that were not lined and contaminated groundwater above levels. authorized. Depending on the size of a pond, the EPA has given utilities between five and potentially 15 years to shut them down. In 2018, a Federal Court ruling prompted the EPA to change its regulations. Today, some utilities may have until 2036 to complete the closure of some ash ponds.

How do I know if there is a coal ash pool near my home?

The map at the top of this page can tell you if there is a coal waste site near you.

Federal regulations require utilities to post information about their coal ash ponds on their websites. If you go to your local utility’s website, you should be able to find information about a pond, including its location, size, and whether it is contaminating groundwater.

Earthjustice, a non-profit organization that manages environmental lawsuits, also compiled data from pond operators. The organization has information on more than 500 coal ash ponds across the United States, including an interactive map and spreadsheet. Users can use them to search based on various factors including condition, utility, and factory name.
If you can’t find the information you’re looking for on a utility’s website, you can check with state regulators. The EPA has compiled a list of these agencies.

How do I know if a coal ash pond near my home is contaminating groundwater?

The CCR rule requires utilities to publish the results of their groundwater monitoring on their websites on an annual basis.

The EPA has a list of websites that provide compliance data on coal ash ponds.
Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit watchdog that advocates for better environmental law enforcement, also released a report in 2019 that examined industry groundwater monitoring data that could provide more information.

What about a spill? How do I know if my nearby coal ash pond is in danger?

In the years following the Kingston disaster, the EPA conducted a series of assessments to detect coal ash units with structural problems. The reports identified 50 units at 32 different facilities that were “potential high risk units,” based on federal guidelines for dams.

I am concerned about the plan of my nearby coal ash basin. What can I do?

Utilities generally have to apply for permits to close ponds. The specific process varies from state to state, but guidelines released by the EPA in 2017 indicate that state licensing programs should be “at least as protective as” federal regulations and should ensure public participation. . Check your regulator’s website for announcements about upcoming hearings.


cnn

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