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KY Groundwater Pollution from Coal Ash Among Worst in U.S.

According to a new report, 91 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants are contaminating nearby groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollutants. (Jellybeens4/Twenty20)
According to a new report, 91 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants are contaminating nearby groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollutants. (Jellybeens4/Twenty20)
March 8, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A power plant outside of Louisville ranks among the top 10 most polluted in the country for groundwater contamination by coal ash, according to a new report.

Coal ash is the toxic leftover byproduct of burning coal, and coal plants produce millions of tons of it each year.

The study by the Environmental Integrity Project and the environmental law firm Earthjustice analyzed coal ash pollution data from 265 power plant sites across the country.

Lisa Evans, senior counsel at Earthjustice, says many people are still unaware of the hazards of coal ash, which often ends up in ponds and landfills that can contaminate the water supply.

"So, coal ash contamination of groundwater is very dangerous, because often, these toxic contaminants like arsenic – you can't taste them, you can't see them – so these cancer-causing toxins can be in drinking water,” she states. “And people near plants who rely on the groundwater for their drinking water, can be impacted without even knowing it."

The report says 91 percent of coal fired power plants in the U.S. have contaminated groundwater, including the Ghent Generating Station, owned by Kentucky Utilities, that sits along the Ohio river northeast of Louisville.

Evans says at the Ghent Generating Station researchers found lithium in the local groundwater at 154 times safe levels, and radium at 31 times safe levels.

"And the reason why Ghent ranks in our top 10 most contaminated is that some of those levels were off the charts in terms of their toxicity," she points out.

Coal ash pollution data from power companies became publicly available for the first time last year, as part of President Barack Obama's federal coal ash disposal rule.

Prior to 2015, there were no federal requirements for the proper disposal of coal ash, or for monitoring groundwater at the sites.

Evans says the Environmental Protection Agency didn't start regulating hazardous waste disposal until the 1980s.

"For years, the industry lobbied against any regulation, claiming that coal ash was benign, that it was quote 'like dirt,' that there was no real harm coming from this massive mismanagement of the waste," she relates.

Starting last summer, the Trump administration took actions to weaken the 2015 federal coal ash regulations.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY