News / USA

Coal Ash Waste Dusts Neighborhoods

Residents fear contamination from toxins linked to cancer

This former nursing home - which was purchased by FirstEnergy Corporation for the company’s proposed expansion project - overlooks the Little Blue Run waste ash dump. The chemicals give it a blue tint.
This former nursing home - which was purchased by FirstEnergy Corporation for the company’s proposed expansion project - overlooks the Little Blue Run waste ash dump. The chemicals give it a blue tint.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

At the top of a hill tucked into a rural farming community of Pennsylvania is an abandoned red wooden barn-like house. John Reed was fixing it up, but never moved in. His mother Barbara checks on the property regularly and says John's dream home became a nightmare after his well-water showed high traces of arsenic two years ago. "We no longer drink the water. And he has quit working on his place, and he's now living with us."

Too close for comfort

John Reed's property is 900 meters upwind from a 526-hectare industrial waste pond called Little Blue Run. FirstEnergy Corporation pumps three million tons of scrubber waste - including coal ash - from the local power plant into Little Blue each year. It has done so since 1975.

Reed believes her son has reason to worry because "arsenic is poison." The toxins in coal ash have been linked to cancer, organ failure and other serious health problems.

John Reed is still paying his mortgage, but he doesn't plan to move into his home anytime soon.  FirstEnergy has been buying up properties nearby including a nursing home, which looks directly over the toxic pond. It now sits vacant with a padlock on the front door.

'In Harm's Way'

Lisa Marcucci, an outreach worker in Pennsylvania for the Environmental Integrity Project, contributed to a new report on the nation's contaminated coal ash sites called "In Harms Way."

She says Little Blue Run was singled out as one of the worst among 39 sites in 22 states. Environmental advocates from Environmental Integrity Project, the  Sierra Club and Earth Justice document each site with records from public files. In the case of Little Blue, According to Marcucci, the company's own records show that - in 2007 and again this year - Little Blue had 10 monitoring wells that spiked pretty high levels for arsenic.

When her son’s well water tested positive for arsenic, Barbara Reed became an advocate for tighter controls on the waste from coal-fired power plants.
When her son’s well water tested positive for arsenic, Barbara Reed became an advocate for tighter controls on the waste from coal-fired power plants.

"It seems to me that it should be a very clear signal that there are problems at that site," Marcucci says.

FirstEnergy came to test John Reed's well and then re-tested it.  According to company spokesman Mark Durbin, the second tests "showed barely a trace of arsenic." Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection reported similar findings.

Lisa Marcucci says Reed deserves to know more. If FirstEnergy and the Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection are using different documents than those in public file rooms, "They need to explain what set of data are they using, what scientists are they consulting and how are they coming to a determination that there's not a problem," she says. "To just say to people, 'don't worry about it, we're minding the store' isn't good enough. In every case the state and the utility company seem to dismiss the concerns as 'Oh, yes! We're monitoring that. We're on top of it,' but there's never anything seemingly being done beyond the 'We're monitoring' stage."

The 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, which sent 4.1 billion liters of toxic waste into the Emory River, was the impetus for proposed federal controls on coal ash disposal.
The 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, which sent 4.1 billion liters of toxic waste into the Emory River, was the impetus for proposed federal controls on coal ash disposal.

No federal controls

What concerns Lisa Marcucci and co-worker Lisa Widawsky, an attorney with Environmental Integrity Project, is that there are no federal controls over coal ash, the waste from 600 coal-fired power plants across the country.

"Twenty states have no coal ash regulation at all and that's just of the states that we've looked into so far," says Widawsky. "Among the ones that do have regulations, they're really a patchwork. Some states require ground water monitoring. Some states require some form of corrective action. No state has the whole package."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed two regulatory options. One would label coal ash a hazardous waste, subject to strict federal rules. The other would put coal ash under the same EPA category as household trash and allow states to govern compliance.

In his testimony at an EPA hearing in Crystal City, Virginia, near Washington, DC, Thomas Adams, Executive Director of the American Coal Ash Association told the panel of regulators that calling coal ash hazardous would do more than good to the $9 billion coal-ash industry. "In an effort to create disposal regulations EPA has created a serious potential threat to one of the most successful recycling stories of this generation."

'Hazardous' label

Coal industry lobbyist Jim Roewer is executive director of the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group. He adds that coal ash has been safely mixed into concrete, wall board, road paving, vinyl tiles and dozens of other products for decades.  He says relabeling it "hazardous" would kill efforts to recycle it responsibly. "Imagine, if you had the option to buy a product that has fly ash in it or something that doesn't contain fly ash in it, you'd likely not buy the material containing fly ash." Roewer says many state regulatory agencies have laws on the books that say, "If a material is a hazardous waste it can't be beneficially used."

Coal ash from a massive coal ash site in Bokoshe, Oklahoma runs off into grazing fields. No federal rules govern waste disposal from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants.
Coal ash from a massive coal ash site in Bokoshe, Oklahoma runs off into grazing fields. No federal rules govern waste disposal from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants.

Roewer says companies that sell recycled coal ash products are already feeling the pinch. "We've seen funding dry up for projects, recycling efforts. We've seen people refuse fly ash in concrete because of the potential that that it is going to be regulated as a hazardous waste by EPA."

Lisa Widawsky with the Environmental Integrity Project doesn't buy that argument. She says safely recycled coal ash would not be regulated by the new rule. "No regulation at all will apply to beneficial reuses. Therefore, approved beneficial re-uses, which could include putting this stuff in roads or concrete, there would be no regulation at all. So that really wouldn't cost the states anything. They would be able to continue and they could continue business as usual as long as the reuses that they are engaging in are safe."

Lisa Widawsky says she not waging an attack against coal, and its beneficial reuses, but instead fighting for federally enforceable safeguards - disposal permits, water monitoring, pond liners, and transport controls - to protect people and the environment."

Curt Havens let the vegetables in his garden rot, rather than harvest them for fear the ground water was contaminated.
Curt Havens let the vegetables in his garden rot, rather than harvest them for fear the ground water was contaminated.

Stricter regulation

Retirees Debby and Curt Havens support the stricter federal rule.  

They live downwind from Little Blue Run in Pennsylvania and say it's not unusual to see powdery white coal ash on their grass and flowers. Curt even dug up his vegetable garden this summer rather than reap the harvest, fearing contamination. The couple has begun to speak out on the issue. They've joined a citizens' group and attend public meetings aimed at holding utility companies, state agencies and elected officials accountable.

Lisa Marcucci with the Public Integrity Project believes their story can make a difference. "We want people to know that these are real humans with real lives, real families who are on the front line of this national crisis. I'm hoping that starts to at least open up a more fruitful dialogue about why we need federal rules."

After a period of public comment that ends in November, EPA is expected to release its final ruling.

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid