PSR Releases New Report on Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash
February 9, 2011
In a just-released report, PSR and two environmental
organizations have revealed that most of the chromium that leaches from coal
ash into ground and surface water takes the form of highly carcinogenic hexavalent
chromium. Long known to cause lung
cancer when inhaled, hexavalent chromium has been shown to cause stomach cancer
in humans, and intestinal and oral cancers in laboratory animals, when ingested
Almost all of the chromium that leaches from coal
ash into ground water and surface water -- 97 to 100 percent -- is hexavalent.
This highly health-significant fact is highlighted
in EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash, a new
report by Earthjustice with co-authorship by PSR’s Barb Gottlieb and multiple authors
from Environmental Integrity Project.
Hexavalent chromium has been much in the news
recently. In December a report by the
Environmental Working Group documented that tapwater in 31 of 35 American
cities studied contained hexavalent chromium.
Days later, the California Office of Environmental
Health Hazard Assessment, after completing a multi-year, peer-reviewed
examination of hexavalent chromium, released a ground-breaking proposal: a public health goal for hexavalent chromium
in drinking water that is 5,000 times lower than the federal government’s
drinking water standard for total chromium.
The lower threshold was deemed necessary to take
into account the sensitivity to carcinogens of children and infants.
In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) issued new guidelines recommending that public water utilities nationwide
test drinking water for hexavalent chromium.
The EPA has not, however, been equally vigilant in
responding to the threat from coal ash. The
prevalence of hexavalent chromium in coal ash leachate was published by the EPA
in 2009, and by the Department of Energy and the industry-related Electric
Power Research Institute in 2006, but remained “hidden in plain view” in
And when the EPA prepared documents for its proposed
rulemaking on coal ash, it discussed hexavalent chromium as a carcinogen by
inhalation only. It did not mention the cancer risks from chromium-VI ingested
in water – an omission that distorts the calculations of risks to human health and
the environment that the EPA must provide in assessing coal combustion wastes.
Hundreds of leaching
or leaking, unlined coal ash dumps are situated near water supplies, making it
urgently necessary for the EPA to develop the strongest possible regulations
for coal ash disposal. PSR has urged the EPA to adopt “Subtitle C” regulations
in order to provide uniform, nationwide protection from coal ash for American