Coal Ash News and Media
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December 3, 2013
By Bruce Henderson/Charlotte Observer
Pollution from coal ash at a Duke Energy power plant in Wilmington kills hundreds of thousands of young fish a year and deforms many more, says a study commissioned by environmental groups that are suing Duke.
Duke called the findings “highly suspect,” saying its own studies over more than 30 years have found no health effects on fish.
Dennis Lemly, a research biologist at Wake Forest University who authored the environmental study, calculates that selenium from Duke’s ash kills 900,000 fish a year in Sutton Lake. The popular fishing lake cools water from Duke’s Sutton coal-fired power plant.
Duke retired the plant’s coal-burning units in November, but environmental advocates want Duke to remove the ash in two ponds at Sutton.
Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is found in coal ash, which is stored in ponds at Sutton that drain to the lake. Eating too much selenium in food can cause health problems in people, such as brittle hair and deformed nails, but it can also cause deformities in young fish.
Selenium in a lake at another Duke power plant, Belews Creek in Stokes County, wiped out 19 of the lake’s 20 fish species in the 1970s. Fish have largely recovered since then.
State wildlife officials have expressed concern over selenium in Sutton Lake in recent years, according to emails and presentations.
Lemly reported that 29 percent of the 529 small bluegill and similar fish he studied were deformed. Because fish with disfigured mouths, fins or tails presumably die young, he estimated that selenium kills 20 to 30 percent of the lake’s bluegills each year.
Recent swings in numbers of largemouth bass, a popular sport fish, have also been reported at Lake Sutton. Lemly’s study found few small bass to analyze.
“It’s reasonable to assume the largemouth bass are experiencing approximately the same level of mortality as the bluegills,” he said. The species share similar sensitivities to selenium, he said.
State data show toxic levels of selenium in bluegill and bass since 1987, he said.
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November 23, 2013
By Bruce Henderson
Faced with state and advocates’ lawsuits, Duke Energy is beginning to waver on its long-held assertion that coal ash stored at its North Carolina power plants doesn’t threaten public health.
Duke agreed last month to pay up to $1.8 million for a water line to a low-income community in the path of groundwater contamination from its Wilmington plant. The local water authority agreed to avoid tapping groundwater again in an area near the plant that is estimated to cover 17 square miles.
Later in October, state officials ordered Duke to supply water to an Asheville-area home whose well was apparently contaminated by ash from the power plant there.
This month, state officials tested four wells near Duke’s Allen power plant on Lake Wylie in Gaston County. While officials don’t expect to find ash contamination in those wells, residents who have lived near a closed ash basin for decades worry about their water.
Those places are on the leading edge of contamination investigations. After decades of ash slurries being dumped into open pits, state officials are just now assessing groundwater risks to power-plant neighbors.
Coal ash contains trace elements such as arsenic that can reach groundwater from unlined ash pits. High concentrations of those elements in drinking water, coupled with years of exposure, can cause cancer, organ and developmental problems.
Duke says its groundwater tests show no contaminants that pose health risks to the public. But elements in concentrations above state groundwater standards have been detected around ash ponds at all 14 of Duke’s coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.
Still unsettled is how much came from natural sources, how much from ash and how far the contamination has spread.
Power plants generate massive quantities of ash. Much of it is recycled, but Duke’s North Carolina plants store 84 million tons in wet form. The ponds settle heavy elements to the bottom but have no synthetic barriers between contaminants and groundwater.
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November 19, 2013
Chapel Hill, NC – For a second time, a South Carolina utility today agreed to remove coal ash from the banks of a river that flows through both North and South Carolina. In a settlement agreement with conservation groups, Santee Cooper agreed to remove 1.3 million tons of coal ash from the banks of the Waccamaw River in Conway, South Carolina. The settlement resolves lawsuits filed by the Southern Environmental Law on behalf of the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
“There is no reason why people in North Carolina should have less protection from toxic pollution than people in South Carolina,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “And there is no reason why a river should be polluted by coal ash when it flows through North Carolina, but be protected from toxic coal ash pollution once it crosses the South Carolina line.”
In 2012, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Catawba Riverkeeper settled a suit with SCE&G under which SCE&G agreed to remove 2.4 million tons of coal ash from the Catawba-Wateree River near Columbia, South Carolina. The Catawba-Wateree River also flows through both North and South Carolina.
In contrast, Duke Energy refused to move its coal ash from the banks of Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water reservoir for the Charlotte metropolitan area, even though it is on the same river – the Catawba — as the SCE&G coal ash lagoons, which are being emptied. Duke also refused to remove coal ash from lagoons that are threatening drinking water wells and contaminating a popular fishing lake in Wilmington.
“Like the Waccamaw, many of North Carolina’s rivers flow through both states,” said Christine Ellis, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper. “Our communities and our rivers should be protected from toxic pollution whether they are in North Carolina or South Carolina. The Grainger settlement provides for the protection of our beautiful black water Waccamaw River in South Carolina. We are grateful to Santee Cooper for agreeing to remove its toxic coal ash. This is a great day for the Waccamaw River and for Conway, our Rivertown.”
November 18, 2013
Charlotte, NC – Mecklenburg County Superior Court ruled that the Catawba Riverkeeper represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center will be a full party in a civil prosecution brought by North Carolina against Duke Energy for coal ash pollution at its Allen and Marshall plants on Lakes Wylie and Norman. The Southern Environmental Law Center sought to intervene on behalf of the Riverkeeper in the state’s action against Duke Energy. Duke Energy opposed the participation of the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Riverkeeper.
“Because of this ruling, we will be at the table working to protect these important lakes and drinking water reservoirs from Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash pollution,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Duke Energy sought to close the Riverkeeper out of the case, but the Court rejected Duke’s position.”
Duke Energy stores millions of tons of coal ash in unlined lagoons on the banks of both Lake Wylie and Lake Norman on the Catawba River. These lagoons contaminate groundwater with toxic substances, and the coal ash lagoon at Allen on Lake Wylie is leaking contaminated water into the drinking water reservoir. Lake Wylie provides drinking water to Belmont, N.C., and Rock Hill, S.C., and Lake Norman provides drinking water to Mooresville and Charlotte. The North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources has determined that Duke Energy is violating North Carolina clean water laws due to its coal ash pollution at its plants on both lakes and that Duke Energy’s pollution “poses a serious threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the people of North Carolina” and “serious harm to the water resources of the state.”
“Duke Energy’s coal ash is polluting all the drinking water reservoirs on the Catawba River in the Charlotte region,” said Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper. “We will work in this case to see that Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash pollution is cleaned up.”
Six weeks from now marks the fifth anniversary of the Kingston coal ash disaster, one of the worst environmental catastrophes in American history. In the coming weeks, we will post a series of blogs highlighting communities throughout the Southeast impacted by coal ash and its detrimental effects. Thanks to Sarah McCoin, resident of Swan Pond, Tennessee, who contributed to this post.
Five years ago when a coal ash dam at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant failed, releasing a one billion gallon wave of coal ash, the nation learned about the widespread threat this hazardous waste poses to communities and the environment. Many were shocked to learn of the lack of federal regulations for coal combustion wastes and the common utility practice of dumping coal ash into massive unlined lagoons. Thus began the public outcry for safeguards protecting public health and the environment from these reckless practices.
At that time, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson pledged to advance regulation and in 2009 the agency issued a proposed rule to designate coal ash as hazardous waste. But five years later we are no closer to coal ash regulations, as the utility industry continues fighting to keep a rule from being finalized. In the meantime, hundreds of communities are still at risk of catastrophic dam failures like the one at Kingston, and are exposed daily to heavy metals and other toxics from the ash as they leach into drinking water, contaminate the fish we eat and pollute the air with coal ash dust; putting people at higher risk for cancer and other diseases.
Sarah McCoin lives a little over a mile from the Kingston, Tennessee plant and saw the destruction caused by the disaster first hand. The flood of ash spared her home and farm that’s been in her family for generations, but destroyed the road leading to her property, her community, and the surrounding environment. In June 2013 Bob Deacy, TVA Senior Vice President of Generation Construction said that the clean up effort is close to “restoring the area to a condition that is good as or better than it was before the spill“. (Note: TVA likes to refer to the disaster as a mere “spill” – we think it was more major than that – a full scale environmental disaster.)
Georgia’s electricity sector was responsible for three of the 12 worst offenses to Georgia’s water resources
Atlanta, Ga. (November 13, 2013) – Today, Georgia’s leading water protection group, the Georgia Water Coalition, named its “Dirty Dozen” for 2013, highlighting 12 of the year’s worst offenses to Georgia’s waters. The annual Dirty Dozen report shines a spotlight on state policies and failures that ultimately harm Georgia property owners, taxpayers, downstream communities, fish and wildlife, hunters and anglers, and boaters and swimmers. Due in part to Georgia Water Coalition member Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s (SACE) efforts, resource-polluting and water-intensive nuclear and coal-fired power plants such as Plant Vogtle and Plant Scherer earned the dubious honor of appearing in this year’s list.
“The Dirty Dozen is not a list of the most polluted water bodies in Georgia, nor are they ranked in any particular order,” said April Ingle, Executive Director of the Georgia River Network. “It’s a list of problems that exemplify the results of inadequate funding for environmental protections, lack of political will to enforce environmental laws and ultimately misguided water planning and spending priorities that flow from the very top of Georgia’s leadership.”
The Coalition’s full report details the history of each selection and suggests solutions to correct these ongoing problems and eliminate the listed threats. It is available online at: http://www.garivers.org/gawater/dirtydozen.htm.
This is the first year that a coal ash waste impoundment site made the Dirty Dozen list — Plant Scherer on the Ocmulgee River. “In Georgia at least 17 billion gallons of coal ash waste are stored in huge lagoons that are mostly aging, unlined and close to waterways,” said Ulla Reeves of SACE. “Coal ash is full of toxic heavy metals, a hazardous waste by definition, though current Georgia and federal regulations fail to protect vital waterways and communities from pollution and the threat of another catastrophic dam failure as we saw in Kingston, Tennessee five years ago.”
New EIP Report Describes TVA Coal Ash Pollutants Measured Over the Past Five Years, Including Arsenic, Boron and Cobalt; Many Pollutant Levels Exceed Health Guidelines
November 7, 2011
Washington, D.C.. — Five years after the billion-gallon coal ash spill in Kingston, TN, a new report from Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) shows that decades of mismanagement have led to toxic groundwater pollution at all 11 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal plants, with concentrations of arsenic, boron, cobalt, manganese, and other pollutants exceeding health-based guidelines in dozens of downgradient wells. The affected groundwater is now unsafe for human consumption. As it migrates into local surface water, the contamination also threatens aquatic ecosystems. The EIP report, which is based primarily on Freedom of Information Act requests, also shows that TVA is not adequately monitoring much of the groundwater around its ash disposal areas.
The EIP analysis details TVA pollutants that exceed health-based guidelines and peak concentrations of toxic chemicals measured over the past five years. Contaminated groundwater under and around TVA facilities is widespread and includes boron, cobalt, manganese, and sulfate – all toxic pollutants known to be associated with coal ash.
EIP Director Eric Schaeffer said: “As we approach the five-year anniversary of the nation’s worst coal ash spill, TVA ought to be leading the effort to clean up groundwater contamination from its leaking landfills and ponds. Instead, the records show patchwork monitoring, and no real effort to contain the damage at these sites. TVA needs a comprehensive plan to monitor and clean up the groundwater contamination caused by years of slipshod disposal practices.”
October 20, 2013
Washington, D.C. – A federal judge issued a memorandum today in a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to finalize federal coal ash regulations. The Court gave the EPA 60 days to “file a written submission with this Court setting forth a proposed deadline for its compliance with [EPA’s] obligation to review and revise if necessary its Subtitle D regulations concerning coal ash, along with its legal justification for its proposed deadline.”
A copy of the detailed memorandum the court issued on this lawsuit can be found here: http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/pdf/coal-ash-rcra-lawsuit-memorandum
The court agreed with the environmental and public health groups that the EPA has a mandatory duty to review and revise if necessary its waste regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act every three years, including its solid waste regulations as they relate to coal ash disposal. The EPA is now required to provide a schedule for finalizing pending federal coal ash regulations, which were proposed in 2010 and have since languished.
This Guest Post was written by Lisa Evans, Senior Administrative Counsel for Policy and Legislation at Earthjustice, and originally appeared on Earthjustice’s blog unEARTHED. You can access the original blog here.
It’s been almost five years since the TVA Kingston coal ash disaster blanketed an idyllic riverfront community in toxic waste.
I revisited the site earlier this month, and the progress of the ongoing Superfund mega-cleanup is evident. One can once again see what brought generations to settle in this scenic valley, amid the broad rivers, quiet bays and gentle green mountains.
In Harriman, Tennessee, families enjoyed vibrant waterfront recreation off sandy beaches along the calm sloughs. Before 2008, every riverfront home had a dock, and the neighborhoods were tight, sharing a common love of the beauty and bounty of the water and mountains. In December 2008, all this was destroyed by the dam’s collapse.
In February of 2009, with the river still full of toxic “ashbergs,” I visited Swan Pond Road and walked through a neighborhood of riverfront homes. Helicopters buzzed overhead, dropping hay and chemicals to hold down dust from the sludge “bergs” rising 40 feet above the river.
A light snow swirled, and a lone cold dog sniffed the ruined shoreline. The tsunami of sludge that burst from the broken impoundment deposited its poison on the shoreline and extended as far as the eye could see. The violence of the spill grotesquely twisted the steel of docks, carried away wooden piers, and dragged several homes from their foundations. In a community that thrived on the water, the toxic sludge buried its dreams.
RALEIGH – State officials directed Duke Energy Progress, Inc. on Wednesday to supply residents of an Asheville-area home with alternative drinking water after tests revealed that the home’s private well contains unsafe levels of contamination.
The residence is between the French Broad River and Duke Energy Progress’ coal ash storage facility for its Asheville Plant in southern Buncombe County.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is requiring that the utility provide alternative drinking water to residents at the residence in Arden, south of Asheville, by Nov. 15. Other residential wells tested in the area remain safe, according to state and federal drinking and groundwater standards.
The state agency also directed the utility to install offsite monitoring wells to determine the type and extent of chemical contamination in the area, according to a letter DENR sent to the utility and the affected residents Wednesday. The state agency directed Duke Energy to provide DENR with the assessment plan by Dec. 8.
“Getting clean drinking water to this residence is our highest priority at this point,” said John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “We are confident that Duke Energy Progress shares the state’s commitment to protect public health and North Carolina’s environment.”
The private water supply wells that have shown contamination are near the utility’s coal-fired power plant that is the subject of litigation between DENR and the utility. Officials are awaiting a judge’s decision on the proposed consent order DENR filed this summer seeking to address compliance issues with the wastewater discharge permit at the plant.
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9/15/2010- 60 Minutes Video: 130 Million Tons of Waste