The EPA Must Protect Communities from Toxic Coal Ash

The EPA Must Protect Communities from Toxic Coal Ash

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Coal ash is a toxic solid waste generated by coal-burning power plants. It’s shockingly unregulated, and it’s piling up at more than 600 dump sites across the country spanning nearly every state. Enough toxic coal waste is generated each year to fill train cars stretching from the North Pole to the South Pole.

Coal Ash Disaster in Tennessee

Coal Ash Disaster in TennesseeWe can’t afford to wait any longer to clean up our country’s coal ash mess. A little over a year and a half ago, a coal ash sludge pond near the town of Harriman, Tennessee ruptured, unleashing a black tidal wave that ripped homes off their foundations, killed birds and fish, and contaminated drinking water supplies and nearby rivers with a toxic soup of arsenic, mercury, lead and other carcinogenic chemicals.

Coal Ash Contamination’s Toll on Human Health

What’s just as disturbing is that coal ash dumps routinely leach toxins into drinking water, increasing cancer, learning disabilities, birth defects and other illnesses. EPA data show that it is more dangerous to drink water contaminated by coal ash than to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. People who drink water contaminated by coal ash toxins face unacceptably high risks of cancer, up to 1 in 50, and this pollution often disproportionately impacts the poorest communities.

The EPA Must Put Strong Federal Safeguards in Place Without Delay

Despite the wake-up call sent by the disaster in Tennessee, and the everyday tragedies that result from coal ash leaching into drinking water and rivers, there are still no federal safeguards to protect communities from coal ash contamination. Coal and utility industry lobbyists have blocked all attempts to institute strong regulations.

Thankfully, we’re finally on the cusp of progress. The EPA is considering the first-ever federal safeguards for coal ash disposal and is inviting public input during a comment period that extends until November 19, 2010.

Our voices are critical because the coal and utility industries are pressuring the EPA to protect their profits and move forward with weak, watered-down action. In a concession to this pressure, the EPA has proposed two options for regulating coal ash: One would essentially let Dirty Coal off the hook, while the other would use the strongest federal protections under the law to crack down on coal ash.

Making Our Voices Heard

Friends of the Earth and our members and supporters are pushing the EPA to put strong, federally enforceable safeguards in place to guarantee coal ash will not pollute our communities. Our president Erich Pica testified in support of strong safeguards at the publc hearing that took place August 30, 2010 in Virginia. Our activists are also attending hearings across the country and submitting written comments to the EPA.

Coal ash is unquestionably hazardous for human health and wildlife — and polluters should no longer be allowed to get away with treating it as anything less.

Please make your voice heard and urge the EPA to set strong, federally enforceable standards to protect our drinking water, our rivers and our communities from coal ash contamination.

Submit comments to the EPA | Resources for attending an EPA hearing | Learn more about our work fighting Dirty Coal

Additional Resources:

Earthjustice and Sierra Club fact sheet: Coal Ash: A National Problem Needs a National Solution

Google map of coal ash waste sites documented by the EPA

Institute for Southern Studies’ Facing South series: Coal’s Dirty Secret

EarthJustice’s coal ash blog

60 Minutes Investigation: Coal Ash: 130 Million Tons of Waste

New York Times blog post: The Tennessee Coal Ash Spill, In Pictures