Senate briefing highlights dire threat from coal ash
Massive clean-up operations in the aftermath of the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill. (TVA)
This week, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment will investigate how the Environmental Protection Agency incorporates science into its rulemaking process. Given that the EPA has been Public Enemy Number 1 for the GOP-controlled House, this is likely to be another opportunity for Republicans and their comrades to target the EPA.
Yes, we’ve had enough of this. But we’re not alone. Republicans have come under fire for questioning science by Democrats as well as members of their own party. In an article in E&E News, former EPA Administrator Bill Reilly, who served under President George H. W. Bush, said “for some of the most prominent leaders of the Republican Party, science has left the building.”
Ouch - but we couldn’t agree more.
Republicans have targeted EPA rules that would save thousands of lives and slash emergency room visits. Rules that would limit the amount of mercury, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides we breathe. And let’s not forget their quest to prevent the EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste.
Coal ash – toxic waste laden with mercury, arsenic, lead and hexavalent chromium – burst from a bluff early this month in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. That same week clean water advocates held a Senate briefing to discuss the very real dangers of coal ash waste.
“Improper Coal Ash Disposal Threatens Public Health” showed that current Senate legislation in play, (the House already passed identical legislation barring the EPA from establishing disposal standards for coal ash) S. 1751, would not prevent dangerous events like the Wisconsin spill and the TVA disaster from occurring across the nation, nor will it prevent coal ash pollutants from entering our drinking water.
The briefing also featured two presentations by nationally renowned scientists who described the science behind the very real threats from coal ash exposure.
Arsenic expert Dr. Michael Kosnett, University of Colorado School of Medicine clinical professor, discussed findings of arsenic in groundwater at the majority of 137 sites where there is documented contamination from coal ash.
“Of all the carcinogens in drinking water regulated by EPA, the evidence establishing the cancer risk from arsenic is the strongest and most compelling,” he said.
The levels of arsenic at these coal ash sites are often many times – sometimes hundreds of times – above the federal drinking water standard.
Dr. David Kosson, Vanderbilt University Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, described how more accurate scientific methods, developed at Vanderbilt, in conjunction with the EPA, indicate that arsenic and other dangerous chemicals, such as cadmium, chromium and thallium, leach from coal ash. He also discussed how an outdated leach test method, known as the TCLP, cannot be relied upon to predict the amount of hazardous chemicals that leach from coal ash. According to Dr. Kosson, more accurate testing indicates that coal ash can leach arsenic, selenium, thallium and other chemicals at levels hundreds to thousands of times above federal drinking water standards.
These two presentations are examples of the best available science – so exactly how much more evidence does Congress need?
This dangerous legislation, S. 1751, will not protect public health and the environment from toxic coal ash. The science can’t be reworked and the facts cannot be erased. Congress must allow EPA to use science to protect the American public’s drinking water.