The effects of coal ash dumping in nearby Fayette County, Pennsylvania
From Monday's "Power Source" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Only about 250 people live in La Belle, a former coal mining patch on an inside bend of the Monongahela River in Luzerne Township, Fayette County. It’s so tiny that it doesn’t appear on most maps.
But that hasn’t stopped coal-fired power plant operators from dumping thousands of tons of coal ash there over the decades, enough to sicken many of the town’s residents, according to Jeremy Ulery, who testified at a state Department of Environmental Protection public hearing last week against a permit that would allow the dumping of much more ash there.
“Our cancer rates are high, people are getting sick, and yet the DEP is considering allowing them to bring more of this toxic stuff into places people can’t even find on a map,” Mr. Ulery said. “They choose towns like ours because they think we don’t matter. But let’s see them put this stuff in Pittsburgh or Sewickley. Let’s see how that goes over.”
The residents want a health study before more coal ash dumping is approved:
Yma Smith said many of her neighbors and friends are sick or have died from cancer or respiratory problems and called on the DEP to conduct a health study of residents before it approves any permit that would allow more dumping.
“My kids deserve better,” Ms. Smith said. “I’m tired of going to funeral homes.”
While there's no scientific proof that fly ash or other forms of pollution are causing health problems, Luzerne Township has elevated mortality levels for diseases that have been linked to pollution exposure, according to a 2010 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ecological study on mortality rates. From 2000 through 2008, Luzerne, which includes La Belle, had heart disease mortality that was 26 percent above the national average, and respiratory disease mortality that was 20 percent higher.
Yes, they dump the stuff in towns that "don't matter"
As Ulery pointed out, the dump sites don't happen in the big cities or the richer suburbs -- they happen in towns that "don't matter." And what has been happening with the dumping of coal ash in places like La Belle is apparently not an isolated incident. This morning's Environmental Health News is reporting that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold hearings on coal ash dumping near poor and minority communities:
Too often toxic coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power, ends up in poor, minority communities. U.S. civil rights officials are launching a deeper look at federal environmental policy to find out why.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a hearing next week on environmental justice and the Environmental Protection Agency. The focus is the impact of coal ash, a toxic waste product of burning coal that often contains harmful metals such as lead, mercury, chromium and cadmium.
Depending on exposure, such contaminants can cause cancer and harm most human organs, and kill or sicken wildlife. Coal ash is the second largest source of industrial waste in the country, after mining, according to a joint report from the nonprofit environment law organization, Earthjustice, and the Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The Commission intends “to shine a light on the civil rights implications of toxic coal ash, as well as other environmental conditions, on communities most in need of protection," said Commission Chairman Martin R. Castro in a statement.
They also dump the stuff in states that "don't matter"
Public News Service reported last week that:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A loophole for disposal of toxic coal ash is being widely misused across northern West Virginia, according to experts worried about heavy metals leaching into creeks and rivers.
As the U.S. wrestles with how to dispose of decades' worth of coal ash, Jim Kotcon, Energy Committee chairman with the Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter, says as much as 40 percent of current disposal falls under a "beneficial use" exemption, despite the ash containing mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium, among other toxins.
PNS explains how this happened:
Under pressure from coal and power plant allies in Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency classified the ash as a "special waste" rather than a "hazardous waste." The U.S. still produces about 140 million tons of coal ash a year, one of the largest kinds of solid waste by weight. Some ends up being used to make products like paper and wallboard, but it's a small fraction of the total.
Most of the ash goes into landfills or temporary impoundments. The federal Office of Surface Mining is now writing rules for placing it on old mine sites.
Not to worry -- our local congressman is right on top of this defending jobs and the coal ash industry:
Congressman David McKinley has forcefully defended what he describes as coal ash "recycling." He argues that its use, in industries like paper-making, supports jobs. And he sponsored a bill to make the 'special waste' designation permanent.
"Three hundred-and-sixteen thousand jobs are at risk," says McKinley. "What we're trying to do is codify that provision, so that we've removed the uncertainty for the recyclers."
Yes, mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium for starters. Hey, but there's no need to worry -- I'm sure the "Statesman of the Year" and recent "Coal Ash Representative of the Year" winner will take action just like he did with Little Blue Run. On second thought, maybe we had better worry.