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Tr-Ash Talk: TVA Disaster Spurs More Toxic Dumping?


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View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
13 January 2012, 8:53 AM
EPA’s promise to close ponds obviously going nowhere
Aerial image of the TVA spill. (TVA)

Last month we marked three years since the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston coal ash spill, underscoring the fact that the EPA has yet to regulate toxic coal ash waste.

Now we have even more reason to be concerned.

According to analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project, the most recent U.S. Toxic Release Inventory indicates that coal ash disposal into these big ponds was much higher in 2010 than it’s been since 2007. Shortly after the Dec. 23, 2008 spill, the EPA pledged it would take this toxic menace seriously, yet the agency has still not published a final rule addressing the waste.

EIP notes: “EPA’s proposal to set standards for safe disposal—which included a plan to close down ash ponds within five years—has gone nowhere.”

In the analysis, EIP found that there was a nine percent increase in the dangerous metals disposed in ponds, including arsenic, chromium and lead since 2009.

“Not only are coal ash impoundment levels rising rather than dropping, but we are seeing efforts by some in Congress to thwart EPA efforts to protect the health of Americans from toxic coal ash dump sites,” said Eric Schaeffer, Director of EIP. “EPA proposed in June of 2010 to require the closure of surface impoundments within five years. If the agency manages to issue a final rule before the end of 2012, that ban would take effect at the end of 2017, a full nine years after the TVA spill. In view of the hazards these ash ponds present, that seems long enough.”

In related news, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that the current lead poisoning level should be lowered by half. This will have serious implications for lead-contaminated drinking water from coal ash. According to this Huffington Post piece, the current standard has not been revisited in two decades.

The current standard has resulted in most government health agencies not intervening until a child is severely poisoned, often with levels as high as 30 micromoles of lead per deciliter which causes severe, irreversible brain damage. According to the Huffington Post, leading medical journals reveal that blood lead levels in children as low as 3 micrograms per deciliter can cause serious developmental disabilities and dramatically lowered IQ’s.

Given the grave danger caused by exposure to lead, let alone arsenic, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and the other dangerous metals in coal ash, the time for these safeguards was yesterday.

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