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Tr-Ash Talk: The Wait For Clean Water

Tomorrow is World Water Day and across the globe, the United Nations and many grassroots groups are holding events to highlight the importance of clean water to our health and global security. In North Carolina, Appalachian Voices will gather residents in and around Asheville for a “Clean Water Not Coal Ash” Rally to call attention to the local and nationwide threat posed by coal ash to drinking water and the nation’s rivers, lakes and streams. In North Carolina, there are at least 10 sites where coal ash dumping has contaminated groundwater or surface water. Nationwide, coal ash dumping has poisoned aquifers and streams at over 150 sites in 34 states. Yet thousands of communities near coal ash impoundments, landfills and minefills still wait for the EPA to take action.

And they’ve been waiting a very long time. Despite 12 years of public pronouncements and promises from the EPA, final rules offering basic drinking water protections are nowhere in sight. In fact, twice every year since 2000, the EPA has officially stated in its semiannual regulatory agenda that it would establish national rules protecting drinking water from coal ash dumping.  In 2000, the EPA announced that the national rule would be final in August 2002. Yet with each successive regulatory agenda, the agency pushed out further the date of promulgation, leaving one to conclude that a political agenda is trumping the EPA’s regulatory one.

The wait is far too long, however, and the burden is unbearable on many communities. Ask the residents of Town of Pines, IN.

This small community near the southern shore of Lake Michigan is now a superfund site as a result of a leaking coal ash landfill and coal ash “beneficially” used as roads and fill. Town of Pines residents have lost their drinking water aquifer after high levels of arsenic, boron and molybdenum were found in the water. Many residents have lost hope that they will ever drink anything other than bottled water—at their own expense.

Jan Nona, a lifelong resident of Town of Pines, talks about the superfund site that is also her hometown, “Now, we may not be scientists, but we can understand what’s in the water and it ain’t pretty. Yet the EPA is delaying making any decisions that might help us in our long battle.”

Reflecting on World Water Day, our nation is blessed with a relative abundance of potable groundwater. But we cannot take this resource for granted. According to the USGS and EPA, approximately 50 percent of Americans still rely on groundwater for their primary source of drinking water, and for rural Americans the figure is about 95 percent. In fact, 75 percent of American cities depend on groundwater for at least some of their drinking water. It is time for America to lead the world by example. An essential first step is for the EPA to protect drinking water from coal ash—without further delay.