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Delay of EPA Coal Ash Rule Threatens our water and our health

Posted by Kathy Attar, MPH on August 3, 2017

The assault on our environment and health by the current EPA continues. EPA is planning to delay limits adopted in 2015 on the toxic pollution that power plants can discharge into waterways. The administration recently held a public hearing on its delay proposal. PSR testified against the EPA's anti-health efforts, which would to make it easier for coal-fired power plants to pollute waterways and, ultimately, our drinking water.

Barbara Gottlieb, PSR's director of environment and health, told EPA,

"Coal-fired power plants discharge immense amounts of post-combustion waste into surface waters. These wastes routinely contain some of the most toxic elements on earth: arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, selenium, and a dozen more. Especially where there is prolonged exposure, these substances can cause several types of cancer, heart damage, lung disease, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, birth defects, impaired bone growth in children, nervous system impacts, cognitive deficits, developmental delays and behavioral problems. In short, coal ash toxics have the potential to injure all of the major organ systems, damage physical health and development, and contribute to premature death.

"Arsenic is one of the more common toxics discharged by coal-fired power plants; they discharge nearly 80,000 pounds of arsenic each year. Arsenic remains in the environment indefinitely; it's an element; it doesn't go away. It is poisonous and is carcinogenic; consuming drinking water high in inorganic arsenic contributes to increased mortality from cancer of the liver, kidney, lung, and bladder. For arsenic in drinking water, there is no known exposure level that does not increase the cancer risk.

"How many Americans know that because we fail to control effluents from coal-fired power plants, their drinking water could give them cancer? or due to substances like mercury, damage their children's brains?  This irreversible damage is totally unacceptable, when the risks can be greatly reduced by enforcing the 2015 ELG rule.  Physicians for Social Responsibility calls on the EPA to withdraw your proposal to delay compliance deadlines for the rule; reinstate all compliance deadlines, and require power plants to reduce their discharges of toxic substances.  It's way past time for power plants to stop poisoning the American people."

Kathy Attar, PSR's toxics program manager spoke about how power plant pollution impacted her community.

"I grew up in Swansea, MA, located about an hour southeast of Boston. You can see the waters of Mount Hope Bay and the Brayton Point power plant from my childhood home—my parents still live there. I learned to swim in Mount Hope Bay.

"Brayton Point Power plant was New England's largest coal plant before it shut down in June of this year. Advocates fought for decades to get Brayton Point to clean up its operations. It discharged water containing some 20 toxic chemicals, including lead, into Mount Hope Bay. Lead is categorized by the EPA as a 'probable' carcinogen. It also causes neurological damage and in children it can cause hyperactivity, behavioral difficulties and reduced IQ.

"Emissions from Brayton Point disproportionately harmed pregnant women, young children, and working-class populations living in the nearby communities along Massachusetts' South Coast—cities like Fall River and New Bedford. Families use the Bay to quahog, fish, or crab for pleasure and to make a living. Unfortunately, the pollution which contaminates Mount Hope Bay often forces areas to be closed to shell-fishing and swimming.

"In October 2015, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer. Through my work, I've read the research on the rising rates of diseases linked to environmental pollution and the high costs to society. While I will never definitively know what 'caused' my cancer, exposure to environmental pollutants in the air or water may have played a role in the onset of my disease."

Physicians for Social Responsibility calls on the EPA to withdraw their proposal to delay compliance deadlines for the rule, reinstate all compliance deadlines, and require power plants to reduce their discharges of toxic substances.

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