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PSR supports rigorous regulation of coal ash

July 28, 2010

Coal ash, the residue left over after coal is burned, contains some of the world’s deadliest toxics:  arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, selenium and others.  This ash is disposed at nearly a thousand sites across the nation.  Toxic elements escape from many of those sites, contaminating the environment, killing fish, entering underground aquifers, and poisoning drinking water wells.

PSR is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assume regulation of coal ash disposal, and urges its members to submit comments to the EPA, demanding that ash disposal sites better protect human health.

The EPA has proposed new regulations for coal ash disposal and is holding hearings and accepting citizen comments on two alternative plans.  One, known as “Subtitle C,” would establish mandatory requirements for the states to meet in disposing of coal ash and would establish direct federal enforcement of the law. 

It would also phase out wet storage of coal ash, which has been shown to leach toxic substances far more frequently than dry landfills.

The other option, “Subtitle D,” would set guidelines for coal ash disposal but allow states to opt out of them.  Citizens would then have to file suit to have leaking coal ash dumps cleaned up – after the damage had been done. 

That approach fails to protect human health and the environment, and forces citizens to combat a massive, well-funded energy industry.

PSR strongly urges its members and all concerned citizens to submit comments in support of “Subtitle C.”

To assist in the preparation of comments, PSR provides a fact sheet on the health hazards posed by coal ash toxicants, and a second fact sheet on EPA’s coal ash policy options.

In addition, the EPA is holding public hearings in five cities to hear directly from concerned parties.  PSR members living in or near these cities are encouraged to attend these hearings and provide live testimony on the need to safely dispose of coal ash.  Contact Barb Gottlieb for information.

Despite detailed EPA documentation of toxic leaks, spills and leaching, coal ash disposal is regulated not by the federal government but by the states, with varying degrees of rigor.

The result:  In some states, coal ash can be dumped into quarries.  Spread on snowy roads.  Or held behind earthen dams in huge “ponds” – often more like small lakes – like the one that burst in Tennessee in December 2008.  That accident released more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry into an adjacent river valley, covering some 300 acres with thick toxic sludge, destroying three homes, damaging many others and contaminating the Emory River.

EPA hearings on coal ash:


August 30 Arlington, VA
September 2 Denver, CO
September 8 Dallas, TX
September 14 Charlotte, NC
September 16 Chicago, IL