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Coal Power Plants Polluting Water, Causing Serious Health Risks

People who live near coal waste deposit sites may be at risk of suffering damaging health effects. This announcement was made recently by two environmental groups, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, in a report which stated that coal waste has polluted water in at least 24 states and at more than 70 sites around the United States.

Coal waste, or coal ash, is a byproduct produced by coal-burning power plants, which constitute the majority of the power plants in the United States. These plants generally store coal waste in ponds or landfills. Often, the waste ponds and landfills have inadequate lining that allows chemicals from the waste to leach into drinking water.

Coal waste contains lead, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt and other harmful metals. These chemicals are known to cause cancer, liver damage, lung disease, gastrointestinal problems, birth defects, and a number of other serious injuries.

The highest risk of coal waste leaching into drinking water is near the sites of older coal waste storage facilities, as these landfills and ponds are more likely to lack liners or to have damaged liners.

Despite the toxic risks of coal combustion waste, there are no national standards for storing or disposing of it. Some states require companies that produce coal waste to obtain permits and other states monitor water for leached chemicals, however, regulations vary greatly from state to state. Even in states that do regulate coal waste, there is still a risk of leaching from older structures that have damaged liners or lack liners completely. A list of the 100 most polluting coal plants is available here. 

In December, 2008, a dam at a coal plant in Harriman, Tennessee, collapsed, releasing over one billion gallons of toxic coal waste over 300 acres of land, poisoning water with hazardous chemicals. While the risk of this type of disaster is serious, the risk of leaching from coal waste ponds and landfills is even more alarming, as it occurs constantly and is generally unmonitored.

Contaminated water has also been discovered recently in Crestwood, Illinois and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, though the contaminated wells in those locations were polluted by sources other than coal waste storage sites.

See the following links for more information:

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