Coal ash threat to Apalachicola River

Published: Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 09:07 AM.

By Lynn Ringenberg, M.D.

 

A national epidemic has come to Florida. It is a silent threat, growing every day. Pollution contaminates our waters, poisons our fish and wildlife and increases our risk of cancer and other diseases. The culprit is coal ash, and here in Florida we generate more than 6 million tons of this toxic waste every year, making our state 7th in the nation for coal ash generation. Even though it’s full of dangerous contaminants, coal ash is even less regulated than our household garbage.

In February, a coal ash pond in North Carolina ruptured, sending 140,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River along the Virginia border. In 2008, a coal ash pond in Tennessee burst, sending more than 1 billion gallons of coal ash into the Clinch and Emory Rivers and damaging 40 nearby homes. While the coal ash problem in Florida isn’t as obvious, it is still just as dangerous.

Coal ash is the waste left over when coal is burned for electricity. In 2007, power plants nationwide generated 140 million tons of this waste – enough to fill a line of train cars stretching from the North Pole to the South Pole. Many power plants simply dump their coal ash into unlined and unmonitored pits. There are no federal regulations ensuring safe disposal and handling of this waste, so coal ash can often contaminate nearby lakes, rivers, streams and drinking water aquifers with toxic pollutants. Across the country, coal ash has contaminated water at more than 200 sites.

Florida’s most recent instance of contamination is along the Apalachicola River. On June 5, environmental groups sued Gulf Power Company for illegally discharging coal ash into the river at its Scholz Electric Generating Plant, a violation of the Clean Water Act. Water tests near the coal ash dumps found that arsenic levels coming out of the unlined pits were 300 times higher than federal safety standards. High levels of cadmium, chromium—well known carcinogens—as well as lead, selenium and mercury were also found. Unfortunately, as coal plant pollution controls become more effective at trapping emissions and decreasing coal plant air pollution, the waste being dumped into coal ash waste streams is becoming more toxic.

Coal ash is a witch’s brew of toxic heavy metals that poses significant health threats. These pollutants can cause cancer, damage organs, impair development in young children, cause heart and lung disease and a host of other dangerous ailments. 



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