coal ash contamination

Coal Ash Wednesday: Think of the children

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Because exposure to coal ash can be devastating to them:

Experimental research has demonstrated that fine and ultrafine particulate matter can pass directly through the nasal olfactory pathway into the circulatory system to the brain.18,19 In addition, research has shown when air pollution is cleared from the lungs it can enter the gut and exit the body via the gastrointestinal tract.20

Chronic exposure to air pollution and particulate matter has been found to cause chronic inflammation and elevated levels of cytokines throughout the body and brain.18,19 In addition, some of the metals in fly ash are neurotoxins,21-24 and exposure to neurotoxic heavy metals during rapid growth in the early stages of life can disrupt developmental processes and result in neurological dysfunction.17,24

Normally I would remove those reference numbers to make the reading easier, but it's good to occasionally give a nod to legitimate research. There's so much industry-funded nonsense out there (a lot of) people can't tell the difference anymore. Prior to the Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002, a heinous amount of the fly ash produced by coal combustion was escaping into the air, literally blanketing the state. But even with the new scrubbers in place these days, particulate matter from coal burning is still polluting our skies. And children are especially vulnerable:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Trump moves to deregulate bottom liners

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Because what's the problem with a little leakage?

The EPA's proposal would ease regulations for the liners that coat the bottom of coal ash pits in order to stop the cancer-linked substance from leaking into groundwater. It would also in some cases allow the use of coal ash in closing landfills.

“These common-sense changes will provide the flexibilities owners and operators need to determine the most appropriate way to manage [coal ash] and the closure of units based on site-specific conditions,” EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. Environmentalists, however, said that the changes would weaken environmental protections.

I am getting really sick of these Orwellian statements coming out of Trump's Kakistocracy. Wheeler is a former lobbyist for coal giant Murray Energy, and this is not his first effort to undermine safety when it comes to coal ash:

Coal Ash Wednesday: NCUC Public Staff opposes Duke rate hike request

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Continuing to profit from negligent behavior is wrong:

The Public Staff recommends denying Duke’s request to bill customers for $161 million in ash-related costs at its power plants. The agency also recommends collecting remaining expenses over 26 years instead of the five years that Duke proposes. Those steps, the agency says, would have the effect of evenly splitting the costs between shareholders and customers.

Duke “had a duty to comply with long-standing North Carolina environmental regulations, and it failed that duty many times over many years at every coal-fired power plant it owns in North Carolina,” a Public Staff official said in written testimony.

This has become an annual (if not semi-annual) battle, and frankly the NCUC needs to put its foot down. Duke Energy is a financial monster, the single largest utility in the Western Hemisphere. It pays healthy dividends to stockholders every quarter, and plans to spend about $37 Billion over the next four years on new acquisitions alone:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Hold on to your wallets

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Duke Energy looking to raise rates to pay for ash cleanup:

Duke argues that closing the ash basins, as state and federal rules now require, is part of its cost of doing business. That, it says, makes the company eligible to recover those costs by adding them to the electricity rates that consumers pay.

“We’re relying on the fair and well-established precedent in North Carolina that allows us to recover money that we spend to comply with environmental rules and regulations,” Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. “We’ve managed coal ash properly for decades, so historically the Utilities Commission determined that those costs are recoverable and should be included in customer bills.”

Bolding mine, because damn. That is Trump-level nonsense right there. The Dan River coal ash spill dumped 46,594 cubic yards into the River, leaving at least a 2" layer of toxic ash on the river bottom for over 10 miles. Just to give you a reference on such volume, that amount of coal ash would fill 330 tractor-trailers. If that's managing coal ash "properly," I'd hate to see what mismanagement would do. Thankfully Josh Stein isn't under any delusions about Duke Energy's responsibilities:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Lead isotope can trace origins of coal ash

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Duke Energy's "naturally occurring" argument just went lame:

Tests show that the tracer can distinguish between the chemical signature of lead that comes from coal ash and lead that comes from other major human or natural sources, including legacy contamination from leaded gasoline and lead paint. "Lead adds to our forensic toolbox and gives us a powerful new method for tracking fly ash contamination in the environment," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

The tracer broadens scientists' ability to assess and monitor exposure risks of people who live or work near coal ash ponds and landfills or near sites where coal ash is being spread on soil as fill or reused for other purposes.

As I mentioned above, Duke Energy has played the "naturally occurring" card numerous times when individual toxic elements are discovered, and fossil fuel-friendly lawmakers have parroted those talking points ad nauseum during hearings and debates. I have often been frustrated with government regulators (state and federal) for not upping their scientific game to pierce that ambiguity. But in reality, they are simply not funded well enough to accomplish the R&D work and the regulatory work. Especially since the GOP took over the NC General Assembly and cut DENR's/DEQ's budget by over 40%. That research shortfall was not a coincidence, it was by design. Once again, we are blessed to have Avner and the Nicholas School working toward solutions:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Go get 'em, Avner

Duke professor to address EPA over coal ash deregulation:

Nearly six years after a busted drainage pipe at a Duke Energy coal ash containment pond turned the Dan River into an oily sludge, the Trump administration is considering a move to roll back some of the Obama-era rules that ban the disposal of coal ash in soil or pits and landfills that aren't lined to protect the environment.

At his Duke University lab, ABC11 caught up with the geochemistry professor headed to the EPA hearing about the issue scheduled for Wednesday morning. Avner Vengosh told ABC11 he's going in hopes of convincing the agency to keep the protections in place. "My coming to EPA is to bring the science," said Vengosh. "Demonstrating that putting coal ash without restrictions is a really bad idea."

Professor Vengosh and his graduate students at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment have done groundbreaking work on contaminants that threaten water quality. They're the ones who (finally) proved the Methane contamination of drinking water wells actually originated from the shale being fracked miles below, by looking at the isotopic signature. So we should all be inclined to pay attention to them on this as well:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Trump's EPA bows to industry pressure

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Nixing rule requiring power plants to show financial capability to clean up spills:

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it won't require electric utilities to show they have money to clean up hazardous spills from power plants despite a history of toxic coal ash releases contaminating rivers and aquifers. Environmental Protection Agency officials said Tuesday that modern industry practices and recently enacted regulations are sufficient to shield taxpayers from potential cleanup costs.

The finding comes after the EPA last year reversed a related proposal under President Barack Obama that would have imposed new financial requirements on the hardrock mining industry.

On paper anyway, the difference between "taxpayers" and "ratepayers" is substantial. But in reality, there really isn't much difference. All taxpayers also pay power bills, and when the NCUC bows to Duke Energy demands to raise their rates to pay for spills and safe disposal of coal ash, taxpayers are footing the bill. And this is not an academic exercise:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Chatham County ash pit leaking dangerous toxins

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Charah needs to answer some questions like yesterday:

State regulators have asked the operator of a Chatham County landfill where coal ash is being stored to come up with a plan to address high levels of toxic elements found in nearby water. The Brickhaven site near Moncure is a former clay mine that the state Department of Environmental Quality approved four years ago to be used as a lined landfill for coal ash being moved from unlined pits at Duke Energy power plants.

DEQ's Division of Waste Management sent a letter to Brickhaven operator Charah Inc. on Friday, noting that levels of barium, chloride, chromium, cobalt and vanadium were found at levels higher than state standards in various groundwater monitoring wells over time. In addition, high levels of arsenic, cobalt, copper, lead and zinc were found in nearby surface water.

In theory, the clay located at this particular site should have provided a good impermeable layer to block seepage. But generally speaking, when a mine is "played out," there's not enough (of whatever it is) left over to continue operating. Whatever the case, this just drives home the message that bottom liners are the only way to ensure leachate doesn't get into the groundwater. But thanks to decades of criminal negligence by coal plant operators, only 5% of the nation's ash pits have those liners:

Coal Ash Wednesday: A history of chronic spillage at Sutton Lake

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As usual, sedimentary deposits tell the tale:

"Our results clearly indicate the presence of coal ash at the bottom of Sutton Lake and suggest there have been multiple coal ash spills into the lake from adjacent coal ash storage facilities after, and even before, floodwaters from Hurricane Florence caused major flooding in 2018," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the research.

According to Vengosh and his colleagues from Duke and Appalachian State University, the amount of contaminants was more than what was found in streams following major coal ash spills in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 and the Dan River in North Carolina in 2014.

Of course Duke Energy is spouting denials and rationalizations left and right, but Avner knows his stuff. This isn't an environmental advocacy org speaking, it's pure science:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke would cap the #2 worst contaminating site in the nation

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Their judgment simply cannot be trusted:

A new environmental report points to a threat to ground water in 39 states, including a local facility as the second worst in the nation. The report confirms the worries people living near Duke Energy's Allen Steam Station have been concerned about for years.

The report claims coal ash dumps in Belmont are leaking cobalt into groundwater, more than 500 times above safe levels, along with other pollutants. Exposure to cobalt can cause thyroid damage.

It can also lead to cardiomyopathy and blood thickening, which are even worse than they sound. Throw Arsenic into that cocktail, and you've got a drink that's definitely not recommended by doctors. But the real moral to this story: This is one of the sites that Duke Energy has decided could be capped in place safely, and is now suing DEQ to block its ruling to excavate it. From the report itself:

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