Power Companies Refute Groundwater Contamination Findings

March 11, 2019

Many power companies are refuting findings that say its groundwater has unsafe levels of one or more contaminants

An estimated 91% of U.S. coal power plants that submitted groundwater monitoring data as required by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule have unsafe levels of one or more contaminants, according to a analysis of the monitoring data by several environmental groups.

According to Power Mag, the report is significant because power companies posted individual results from initial groundwater monitoring of their coal ash landfills and surface impoundments on separate websites starting in March 2018 as required by the rule. For example, Duke Energy’s data is about 25,000 pages, and Alabama Power’s exceeds 1,000 pages. Until recently, they have not been accessible as a single collected resource.

This report was compiled by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) in collaboration with the Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network, and other organizations, according to Power Mag. The EIP said it obtained and analyzed all groundwater monitoring data that companies made publicly available on separate websites.

However, while the EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) covers 922 coal ash landfills and surface impoundments at 414 coal-fired power plants, the EIP’s dataset covers only 265 coal plants or offsite coal ash disposal areas. According to Power Mag, this is including more than 550 individual coal ash ponds and landfills that are monitored by more than 4,600 groundwater monitoring wells.

According to the EIP, the rest of the coal plants have not posted groundwater data because they closed their ash dumps before the Coal Ash Rule took effect in 2015, or because they were eligible for an extension or exemption.

Under the final 2015 rule, some coal ash ponds are eligible for an extension. This means they are not required to complete baseline monitoring until April 17, 2019, according to Power Mag. Meanwhile, companies that committed to closing an ash pond by April 2018 were originally exempt from groundwater monitoring requirements, however, the EPA vacated the loophole in August 2016, and the rule now requires that “early closure” ponds must post their monitoring data by September 2019.

According to Power Mag, the report assesses several pollutants from coal ash—identified by the EPA in a 2014 risk assessment—that pose the most adverse health impacts, comparing them to health-based thresholds for arsenic, boron, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, fluoride, lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, radium, selenium, and thallium, among others.

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