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Coal Ash: Toxic – and Leaking

Coal ash – the waste material left after coal is burned – contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic.  And disposal of the growing mounds of coal ash is creating grave risks to human health.

Toxic constituents of coal ash are blowing, spilling and leaching (dissolving and percolating) from storage units into air, land and human drinking water, posing an acute risk of cancer and neurological effects as well as many other negative health impacts:  heart damage, lung disease, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, birth defects, and impaired bone growth in children.

This ash, which is generated at coal-fired power plants across the country, is the second-largest industrial waste stream in the country.

Recent News

Those of us working for safe coal ash disposal won a critical battle at the end of June, when a joint U.S. Senate-House conference committee voted to keep a crippling amendment out of the Transportation bill. The amendment would have banned the EPA from regulating coal ash disposal, now or in the future.

PSR’s three California chapters cosigned a letter thanking Senator Boxer for her tenacious and effective leadership in removing the amendment from the Transportation bill.

The letter, although from our California chapters, really voices the appreciation of all of us in PSR.  Given the toxicity of coal ash and the extent of coal ash dump sites in almost every state in the nation, it was a public health win for all of us.  

Eight PSR doctors, flying in to Washington from six states, presented the Obama Administration with a petition signed by 850 health professionals voicing their concern about the toxic dangers posed by unregulated coal ash disposal. The PSR doctors presented the petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the President's Council on Environmental Quality, calling for release of a health-protective regulation coal ash rule as soon as possible. While in Washington, the delegation also held a briefing for the Senate and meet individually with key senators. Learn more »

PSR is petitioning the White House to have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) release health-protective standards for coal ash disposal. The EPA has been in the process of developing rules for coal ash disposal for more than two years.

The coal ash spill in southeastern Wisconsin that poured heavy metals and toxicants into Lake Michigan poses potentially serious health risks to the communities in the area.  When previous coal ash accidents have occurred, water samples have found elevated levels of arsenic, lead, chromium, and mercury, which can cause cancer, neurological damage, or both in humans.  This is another stark reminder of why EPA needs to adopt strong regulations of coal ash and why our federal, state and local policies should focus on the health and well-being of our citizens rather than on corporate profits.

View the coverage of this story from the Rachel Maddow Show:


Coal Ash Resources

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new regulations for coal ash disposal and is receiving citizen comments.

PSR calls on its members to urge the EPA to establish mandatory federal regulation of coal ash disposal.  It’s easy:  Submit your comments by emailing the EPA at: Use as your subject line: Attention Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–RCRA–2009–0640.  Consult PSR’s resources as you prepare your comments:

Thank you for raising your voice on this important health issue.

Action Alerts

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