New Report—Coal Ash Linked To Cancer and Other Maladies

Coal's waste is poisoning communities in 34 states

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Water and air in 34 states are being poisoned by the waste of coal-fired power plants—creating major health risks for children and adults—according to a report released today by Earthjustice and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The ground-breaking study connects the contamination occurring at hundreds of coal ash dumps and waste ponds across the country to health threats such as cancer, nerve damage and impairment of a child’s ability to write, read and learn.

Contaminants leaking or being emitted from these sites include arsenic, which causes skin, bladder and lung cancer; lead, which damages the nervous system; boron, which attacks the testes, kidney and brain; and mercury, a neurotoxicant particularly harmful to a child’s development.

Today’s report, "Coal Ash: The Toxic Threat to Our Health and Environment" follows a report issued last month, by Earthjustice and other environmental groups, that revealed 39 contaminated coal ash sites in 21 states. Together, the two studies confirm that at least 137 sites in 34 states are leaking a variety of toxic contaminants into nearby air and drinking water supplies, posing significant health threats to those who drink the water or breath in fugitive coal dust.

These examples of coal ash leaks coupled with today’s report on the impacts to our health from ash’s toxic pollutants paint a clear picture of the coal ash threat.

On Aug. 30, just a few miles from our Washington D.C. office, the EPA held the first of eight public hearings on its plan to regulate coal ash waste ponds and dumps. Hundreds of activists from around the region and even as far away as Puerto Rico traveled to the nation’s capital to testify. The message to the EPA was clear: coal ash is a threat to our health and we need federally enforceable safeguards that guarantee strong protections.

But there is still strong opposition from the polluters who will be forced to clean up decades of their coal ash mess. They, too, appeared in DC, Denver, Dallas, Charlotte and today in Chicago to testify at EPA public hearings. Their message spreads misinformation and doomsday predictions about what strong protections will do for their bottom line. They are throwing millions of dollars to high-paid lobbyists to pressure the EPA and Congress to pull back any attempt to finally clean up the coal ash mess.

But we’re not giving up!

Only three public hearings remain: Sept. 21 in Pittsburgh, PA; Sept. 28 in Louisville, KY; and a final one the week of Oct. 25 in Knoxville, TN. Please attend any of these hearings! We need all the support we can get. If you can’t attend a hearing, you can still send EPA a message that we want strong, federally enforceable safeguards against coal ash.

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.