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EPA Rules for Power Plant Wastewater Called Step Forward

Heavy metals in power-plant wastewater can contaminate waterways. Credit: SusanUtley/morguefile.com
Heavy metals in power-plant wastewater can contaminate waterways. Credit: SusanUtley/morguefile.com
October 2, 2015

PITTSBURGH - Environmentalists are calling new rules for contaminated wastewater from coal-fired steam power plants a victory.

The rules finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week set the first limits on the levels of toxic metals in discharged water. The old rules, last updated in 1982, only covered particulate matter in the water.

Adam Garber, field director at PennEnvironment, said contamination can include a number of different toxic metals.

"It varies by power plant and the source of the coal," he said, "but it can range from barium and selenium to arsenic and can cause problems for the local waterways."

PennEnvironment still is reviewing the new rules. Garber said he believes they are a significant step forward toward protecting the environment, but added that more still needs to be done.

The intake of fresh water and the discharge of hot wastewater into the environment also needs to be addressed, Garber said.

"That thermal pollution, as it's known, can stress the aquatic life and cause significant damage," he said, "and has even been known to cause massive fish kills in these waterways."

According to the power industry, the new rules may force some older power plants to close. The industry may challenge the rules in court.

The EPA rule is online at epa.gov.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA