Clean water advocates are challenging a permit that will allow the Hatfield's Ferry coal-fired power plant to discharge mercury, cadmium, selenium, lead and other toxic metals into the Monongahela River. The Monongahela is a drinking water source for more than 350,000 people living south of Pittsburgh. Many coal-fired power plants around the country use systems that prevent discharge of heavy metals into rivers and streams. The appeal filed today before the state Environmental Hearings Board seeks to get effective pollution controls installed at Hatfield's Ferry.
The polluted water that Allegheny Energy Supply Co. (AES) wants to dump in the river contains the same toxic metals found in other coal burning wastes, such as the toxic coal waste that flooded over 300 hundreds of acres of land, and parts of the Emory and Clinch rivers, after a dam collapsed in Tennessee in late December 2008. EPA has recently stated that it will regulate these solid wastes nationally by the end of 2009, possibly classifying them as toxic waste. AES is asking permission to discharge a similar liquid waste directly into a major source of drinking water.
Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project and Citizens Coal Council have joined together to appeal a Clean Water Act pollution discharge permit that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued to AES's Hatfield's Ferry power plant. After 40 years of operation and several lawsuits, Hatfield's Ferry is finally installing air pollution scrubbers that limit the amount of sulfur dioxide, mercury, and other pollutants pumped into the air. However, the company plans to take dangerous pollutants out of the air and dump them in the river.
"We don't need to sacrifice our water when we clean up our air," said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice attorney. "We can clean up both. Many power plants have installed controls to limit both air and water pollution. AES needs to do the same."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report finding that more than a third of coal plants surveyed already achieve "zero liquid discharge" from their scrubbers, indicating that clean air does not have to come at the price of clean water. Hatfield's Ferry is the latest in a line of Pennsylvania power plants that DEP has permitted to buck the national trend towards zero liquid discharge.
"Those of us living downstream from Hatfield's Ferry have to be concerned about any more pollution in our drinking water," said Lisa Graves-Marcucci of the Environmental Integrity Project. "Our treatment plants are old. We've seen unhealthy spikes in metals concentrations in the past, and that means we need to do all we can to keep our water clean in the first place."
The groups will also be defending the Pennsylvania DEP's decision to set strong limits on the amount of sulfates and other pollutants that Hatfield's Ferry may add to the Monongahela. AES filed its own appeal before the Environmental Hearings Board in an effort to weaken the limits, which are necessary to address ongoing water quality problems in the river. This past October, DEP discovered that increased pollution from industrial activities is impairing water quality in the Monongahela. To solve the problem, the Pennsylvania DEP is requiring all major polluters, including Hatfield's Ferry, to meet strict limits for sulfates and other pollutants. Installing a zero liquid discharge system would enable AES to meet these important limits -- and play a positive role in cleaning up the river.
The discharge released by scrubbers includes cadmium, which is known to cause cancer in people. The waste water also contains copper, lead, mercury, selenium and thallium, all metals that can damage the nervous system, heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys. These metals are extremely harmful to people and animals even in very small quantities. Fish, animals and plants in the Monongahela River ecosystem are also affected because they depend on the river for food, water and habitat.