Existing national standards meant to control coal plant water pollution are thirty-one years old and fail to set any limits on many dangerous pollutants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to update these outdated standards, in order to curb discharges of arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, selenium, and other heavy metals from coal plants. Although the Clean Water Act requires the EPA and states to set pollution limits for power plants in the absence of federal standards, states have routinely allowed unlimited discharges of this dangerous pollution.
In short, according to the report, coal plants have used rivers, lakes, and streams as their own private waste dumps for decades.
The reports makes numerous additonal points about pollution from coal-fired power plants. These dangerous discharges have serious consequences for communities that live near coal-fired power plants and their dumps across the United States. Tens of thousands of miles of rivers are degraded by this pollution. The EPA has identified more than 250 individual instances where coal plants have harmed ground or surface waters. Because many coal power plants sit on recreational lakes and reservoirs, or upstream of drinking water supplies, those thousands of miles of poisoned waters have an impact on people across the country.
According to the report, coal water pollution raises cancer risks, makes fish unsafe to eat, and can inflict lasting brain damage on children. Americans do not need to live with these dangerous discharges.
Wastewater treatment technologies that drastically reduce, and even eliminate, discharges of toxic pollution are widely available, and are already in use at some power plants in the United States. According to the EPA, coal plants can eliminate coal ash wastewater entirely by moving to dry ash handling techniques. Scrubber discharges can also be treated with common sense technologies such as chemical precipitation, biological treatment, and vapor compression to reduce or eliminate millions of tons of toxic pollution. The EPA’s recent proposal to set long overdue standards contains multiple options, including strong standards that would require the elimination of the majority of coal plant water pollution using technologies that are available and cost-effective. (WaterkeeperAlliance)
* The Environmental Integrity Project, The Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Earth Justice, Waterkeeper Alliance.