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Ninety percent of coal plants examined by the Environmental Integrity Project are polluting nearby groundwater with coal ash, according to a new study. (Photo: Appalachian Voices/flickr/cc)

In 'Wake-Up Call' for Nation, Study Using Industry's Own Data Finds 9 in 10 Coal Plants Are Causing Toxic Pollution

"The pollution is basically everywhere you look."

Julia Conley

A new study on the dangerous levels of toxic chemicals that nearly all U.S. coal plants are leaving in nearby groundwater should serve as "a wake-up call for the nation."

That's according to the environmental law non-profit Earthjustice, which worked with the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) to analyze the coal industry's own data on the toxins its companies are polluting groundwater with, finding that out of 265 coal plants that monitor their surrounding areas, 242 reported unsafe levels of chemicals including arsenic, lithium, and cadmium.

The results of the study reveal that about nine out of 10 coal plants in the U.S. are endangering Americans by dumping coal ash into unlined pits, allowing chemicals to seep into groundwater.

"The pollution is basically everywhere you look," Abel Russ, at attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), told the Guardian.

Some of worst offenders, according to the study, include the San Miguel power plant near San Antonio, where unsafe levels of the neurotoxin lithium and cadmium, a carcinogen, were found; Duke Energy in North Carolina where thyroid-damaging cobalt was detected; and the Jim Bridger power plant in West Virginia, where the toxic chemical selenium was found.

"This national report reconfirms what we already know about coal ash—every facility in the state is leaching huge amounts of dangerous heavy metals and other pollutants into our groundwater," said Curt Chaffin, head of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, in a statement.

"At a time when the EPA—now being run by a coal lobbyist—is trying to roll back federal regulations on coal ash, these new data provide convincing evidence that we should be moving in the opposite direction."                                                                      —Abel Russ, EIP"To make matters worse, contamination is happening in communities that could be using groundwater for drinking water and private wells," he added.

A majority of the coal plants reported unsafe levels of at least four toxins, according to the Guardian.

The Trump administration, Earthjustice and EIP noted, is actively worsening the problem, making it more likely that coal plants will allow toxins to seep into groundwater.

Last July, President Donald Trump's EPA loosened the regulations put in place by the Obama administration's 2015 Coal Ash Rule, which had ordered coal plants to monitor nearby groundwater and to dump coal ash in lined pits, preventing toxins from leaking into soil.

One of EPA Administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler's first orders of business when he stepped in to serve as interim administrator last July was rolling back the rule, allowing coal plants to dump ash into unlined pits for 18 more months before complying—saving the industry tens of millions of dollars.

"Using industry's own data, our report proves that coal plants are poisoning groundwater nearly everywhere they operate," Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans told the Guardian. "The Trump administration insists on hurting communities across the U.S. by gutting federal protections. They are making a dire situation much worse."

"At a time when the EPA—now being run by a coal lobbyist—is trying to roll back federal regulations on coal ash, these new data provide convincing evidence that we should be moving in the opposite direction," Russ said in a statement.

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