Coal contains a long list of toxic chemicals, including arsenic, radium, and other carcinogens, several metals that can impair children’s developing brains, and multiple chemicals that are toxic to aquatic life. When coal is burned to produce electricity, these toxic chemicals become concentrated in the waste product – coal ash.Report: “Coal’s Poisonous Legacy: Groundwater Contaminated by Coal Ash Across the U.S.”
This reminder of the health hazards caused by coal ash, a by-product of coal-fired power plants, precedes the alarming report that the groundwater beneath nearly every coal plant in the United States is contaminated. Specifically:
- 91 percent of coal plants have unsafe levels of one or more coal ash constituents in groundwater, even after we set aside contamination that may naturally occurring or coming from other sources.
- The groundwater at a majority of coal plants (52 percent) has unsafe levels of arsenic, which is known to cause multiple types of cancer. Arsenic is also a neurotoxin, and, much like lead, can impair the brains of developing children.
- The majority of coal plants (60 percent) also have unsafe levels of lithium, a chemical associated with multiple health risks, including neurological damage.
- The contamination at a given site typically involves multiple chemicals. The majority of coal plants have unsafe levels of at least four toxic constituents of coal ash.
The report compiles from data collected and made public under the “Coal Ash Rule”, a 2015 federal regulation establishing monitoring requirements for coal ash dumps.
“Coal’s Poisonous Legacy: Groundwater Contaminated by Coal Ash Across the U.S.”, released Monday, was researched and written by representatives from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, with assistance from the Prairie Rivers Network, Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, and NRDC. To download the full report: