Strong Coal Ash Rules Sought at Public Hearing

Witnesses from across the country yesterday urged the EPA to set strong public health standards for coal ash. In an all-day hearing in Arlington, VA, environmental and public health advocates and members of the general public asked EPA to regulate coal ash, a toxic byproduct of coal combustion that can contain arsenic, lead, and other toxics, as a hazardous waste.

“The number of people who attended the hearing today, and the distance they travelled to do so shows just how far the problem of toxic coal ash stretches,” Lyndsay Moseley from the Sierra Club said yesterday. “We need EPA to enact federally enforceable protections and to do so before more people are exposed to this toxic mess.”

In June, EPA published a notice of proposed rulemaking for coal ash that presented two regulatory options. The first option would designate coal ash as a hazardous waste, requiring special handling, transportation, disposal, and any potential reuse. The second would regulate coal ash in a way typically only used to control less toxic wastes such as household garbage – an option that would limit EPA's responsibility and authority over coal ash management.

Regulating coal ash as hazardous waste might help prevent some of the horror stories presented at the hearing and elsewhere. When coal ash escapes from currently unregulated ponds, impoundments, and landfills, it contaminates water supplies and threatens communities with cancers and other health problems.

A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project identifies 39 coal ash disposal sites that have contaminated water. The 39 are in addition to the 31 sites the group identified in a February report and 67 damage cases reported by EPA. From the newest report:

At every one of the 35 sites with groundwater monitoring wells, on-site test results show that concentrations of heavy metals like arsenic or lead exceed federal health-based standards for drinking water. For example, arsenic levels were above the 10 microgram per liter “maximum contaminant level” (MCL) at 26 of 35 sites, with concentrations reaching as high as 3,419 micrograms (over 341 times the standard) at the Hatfield’s Ferry site in Pennsylvania. 

The Arlington hearing was the first of seven EPA will hold to discuss coal ash regulation. Find out more about how you can sign up to speak or submit comments to the agency.

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