Archives for category: Coal Ash

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently completed an amazing series of reports on the cancer clusters in Western Pennsylvania. Here is a sample from Day 2 of their 8-day series.

In many places around Western Pennsylvania residents see clusters of death and clusters of people sickened by cancer or heart and lung diseases.

And, like Lee Lasich, a Clairton resident, they’re frustrated that government health and environmental agencies don’t see them too, don’t do something about the problems and don’t take a tougher stance on enforcement of air pollution regulations.

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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s analysis of Pennsylvania Department of Health mortality data from 2000 through 2008 found that 14,636 more people died from heart and respiratory disease and lung cancer in 14 Western Pennsylvania counties than national rates would predict, or 12,833 after adjusting for excess smoking in the region. And the yearlong investigation found numerous people throughout the region who talked about what seemed like unnatural and unexplained clusters of illnesses and death in their communities.

This overlap of high mortality rates and pollution raises questions about whether there is a causal relationship. The question has not been definitively answered, but for the people who live among these clusters, the connection seems clear.

More . . .

When it comes to particulate pollution, what you can’t see can hurt you.

“The stuff now is more insidious but much harder to perceive,” said Lester B. Lave, the Carnegie Mellon University economics professor who pioneered pollution mortality research in the 1970s. “There is no rotten egg smell. There is no dirt. It is less easily perceived. People are usually astonished that Pittsburgh still is one of the worst, but air pollution is continuing.”

Studies estimate that pollution kills 20,000 to 60,000 each year in the United States. Even at the lower range, pollution deaths would equal the nation’s annual rate of homicides.

The upper range would equal traffic fatalities and suicides combined and rank pollution as the nation’s eighth leading cause of death, just behind diabetes — another disease pollution has been linked with — and just ahead of the combined category of influenza and pneumonia.

And what’s true about pollution deaths holds true about particulate pollution: Both remain largely imperceptible to the general public.

Science to the rescue

For the past 40 years, science time and again has implicated particle pollution as a major killer.

In 1970, Dr. Lave and Eugene B. Seskin for the first time calculated health damage from pollution. Their subsequent book, “Air Pollution and Human Health,” published in 1977, found not only “a close association between air pollution and mortality,” but determined the relationship to be substantial.

Drs. Lave and Seskin’s work stirred such controversy that it prompted an effort to get Dr. Lave fired from his teaching position. But their science stood the test of time and helped inspire major epidemiological studies in subsequent decades.

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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has just completed an amazing series of reports on the cancer clusters in Western Pennsylvania.  Here is a sample from Day 1 of their 8-day series.

Numerous studies show that southwestern Pennsylvania has poor air quality and a yearlong Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation has found that those pollution problems remain far from solved in communities such as Shippingport and Monaca, Bellevue and Sewickley, Masontown and Clearfield, Cranberry and Bridgeville, Pittsburgh and hundreds of others.

At the same time, the Post-Gazette’s review and analysis of state Department of Health mortality statistics shows that 14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict.

Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure.

After adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, the total number of excess deaths from those three diseases is 12,833. That’s still a more than 10 percent higher mortality rate overall than would be expected in the population of approximately 3 million people in 14 counties, based on national risk rates for those three diseases.

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The Post-Gazette mapped the mortality rates for heart and lung disease and lung cancer for each of 746 municipalities in the 14-county region and found higher rates around many of the region’s 16 coal-fired power plants and 150 other companies considered by the EPA as major stationary sources of pollution emissions. High mortality rates also turned up irregularly in the “plume shadows” of the utilities and industrial sources, that is the downwind area where their emissions can be transported.

The mortality mapping, while not establishing any direct cause-and-effect link to any single or specific pollution source, shows associations that are consistent with accepted scientific health risk models and formulas used by the EPA and other pollution research scientists. It indicates that pollution may play as big a role in the region’s high mortality rates for those three diseases as Pall Malls, pilsners and pierogies.

“The maps do actually form some evidence that reinforces the literature that coal burning does have those effects,” said Conrad Dan Volz, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities and an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health.

He noted that the mortality rates from 2000 through 2008 are “lagging indicators” that could reflect past pollution exposure for the region’s population. But they might also show the health impacts of continuing exposure and that regulations aren’t as effective as they could be.

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On Sunday morning U.S. Steel finally shut down its Donora mills. By that afternoon, when a rainstorm blew into the valley ending the inversion and clearing the pollution, 22 people had died in Donora and the town of Webster, just across the Mon. Almost half of Donora’s 13,000 residents were sickened, and hundreds were evacuated or hospitalized.

“Dr. Clarence Mills, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati, said at the time that if the inversion had lasted another day, hundreds more would have died and life as we know it would not exist in Donora,” Dr. Stacey said.

In the months that followed, an additional 50 people died in Donora over the number that would normally be expected. And the town’s mortality rate remained significantly higher than that of neighboring towns in the Mon Valley for a decade.

U.S. Steel refused to accept blame at the time and still has not turned over to researchers its archival data related to the fatal smog.

Lawsuits totaling $4.5 million in claims were filed by more than 100 Donora residents against U. S. Steel. All were settled in 1951 for $256,000, according to a new book, “The Polluters,” written by Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter.

“No one got rich,” said Dr. Stacey. “After the lawyers were paid, most people had enough to buy a television set.”

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Although FirstEnergy sent workers through the affected communities to power-wash the ashy black residue from the exterior of homes, outdoor deck and lawn furniture and vehicles, and cleaned indoor carpeting — and did so at Gracie’s grandparents’ home in Raccoon Township — it did not remove the sand pile where she continued to play daily, and, as was her wont, put things in her mouth.

Then, the lawsuit states, on Aug. 7, 16 days after what had become known in the community as the “black rain event,” FirstEnergy notified local officials and made public announcements recommending that farmers not allow livestock to graze in fields carpeted with the soot and that residents not use or eat from their home gardens for a year. In the weeks that followed, while company workers mowed the affected hay and yards, and harvested and paid for backyard garden produce, Gracie’s long brown hair was falling out in big clumps.

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From

March 22, 2012 was World Water Day. See how North Carolina citizens came together to protect their waters from coal ash.

It’s no secret that coal is our dirtiest energy source. However, what many people don’t know is that as coal burns, many of its most toxic elements, including heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and chromium, are concentrated in the ash that remains and the sludge that’s scrubbed from smokestacks. This by-product is called coal ash. It’s the second largest industrial waste stream in United States and is essentially unregulated.

From al.com:

Alabama’s coal-fired power plants dispose of almost 15 million pounds of toxic metals in on-site ash ponds, more than plants in any other state. Alabama Power Co.’s Miller Steam Plant in western Jefferson County sends more toxic metals to its ash pond than any other plant in the country, more than 5 million pounds annually.

That’s according to an analysis of data in the U.S. EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory published Thursday by the Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy organization.

The nation’s attention turned to coal ash ponds three years ago, when a pond associated with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant ruptured, flooding 300 acres of the countryside with contaminated sludge that inundated homes and fields and flowed into the Emory and Clinch rivers, filling in large areas of the rivers and resulting in fish kills.

In the aftermath of the spill, industry and governmental agencies increased scrutiny of the ponds. Pond usage is one method of disposing of the ash left over from burning coal. That ash contains traces of such metals as arsenic, chromium and lead that occur naturally in the coal. Wet ash is pumped to the ponds, where the water is held so the contaminants settle out of suspension.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said Miller’s No.1 ranking and top 20 rankings for its Gorgas plant in Walker County, its Gaston plant in Shelby County and the Barry plant near Mobile are mostly a function of the size of the plants. Miller is one of the nation’s largest coal-fired plants.

Alabama Power chose to build larger plants that burn more coal, he said, while another utility might have multiple plants that would add up to a similar volume. Sznajderman said the ponds are part of the plants’ environmental controls and the company has a long track record of operating them safely.

“We did have our ash impoundments inspected and received a satisfactory rating and that is the highest rating you can get,” he said. “The fact of the matter is we have operated these ash impoundments for decades to contain these materials onsite at the plant safely. We have a vigorous inspection program to ensure these facilities are inspected regularly.”

In addition to the assessment EPA made of the condition of ash pond dams across the country, the agency also classified ash ponds by the level of hazard posed if dams were to fail.

All but one of the Alabama Power ponds were classified as a significant risk, meaning that, if a rupture occurred, environmental and property damage would result. One ash pond at the Gaston plant in Shelby County’s Wilsonville is classified as a high hazard, meaning that loss of life could occur if a dam broke. All the ponds lie near waterways that receive treated discharge from the ponds.

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Image from Flickr.

From Reuters:

Toxic contamination from coal ash, a waste product of coal-fired power plants, has been detected in ground water and soil at 20 sites in 10 U.S. states, an environmental watchdog group reported on Tuesday.

These sites are the latest to contribute to a total of 157 identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the independent Environmental Integrity Project, which released the report.

Coal ash is left after coal is burned at power plants and has concentrations of heavy metals and salts that can leach into the environment unless disposed of properly in ponds with liners and covers, said Jeff Stant, the report’s editor.

But most states do not require ponds to be lined, have any construction standards or any monitoring or cleanup requirements, Stant said, adding that almost half the wastes from coal-burning in the United States are dumped this way.

Nineteen of the 20 newly identified sites show ground water contaminated with arsenic or other toxic metals exceeding the maximum contaminant level set out in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The 20th site showed contaminated soil with arsenic 900 times the federal screening level for site cleanups, the report said.

Those who live near these sites, including three people who spoke at a briefing, reported contaminated streams, respiratory problems and air pollution powerful enough to turn a white house black. In one case, a rancher said he closely monitors the amount of sulfate in the water his cattle drink because this chemical can reach lethal levels.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN

The Environmental Integrity Project released an open letter to Congress signed by more than 2,000 people living near coal ash sites, decrying “legislation that would stop EPA in its tracks and replace real standards with imaginary state ‘plans’ that polluters could ignore …”

Stant and others noted at a briefing that the House of Representatives has passed and the Senate is considering legislation that the environmental group said would give the states, instead of the federal government, authority to address the problem of coal ash contamination of water and soil.

“We already have here a clear and present danger to America’s public health,” Stant said at a telephone briefing. “It is no solution for Congress to hand authority for addressing the problem permanently to states that have refused to enforce common-sense standards for the last 30 years and hope that the whole problem goes away.”

John Ward, of the American Coal Ash Association, disputed that interpretation of the measure now in Congress.

“There are no federal standards for coal ash right now,” Ward said by telephone. “This bill would also expand EPA’s enforcement authority from what it is now.”

Ward noted that coal ash is generated in vast quantities and can be reprocessed into such consumer goods as wallboard and shingles.

“We think the solution to coal ash problems is to stop throwing it away, to alleviate the need to have these disposal ponds at all,” Ward said.

More.

  • The full Environmental Integrity Project report is available online at environmentalintegrity.org.
  • For the report click here.
  • For the news release click here.
  • Read the letter to Congress from more than 2,000 Americans living near coal ash sites
  • Listen to the December 13, 2011 news event here.

From Epoch Times:

Coal and oil-burning power plants have long been responsible for much of the nation’s air pollution. But a new report says that these facilities have managed to avoid emissions standards that every other industry has had to observe for decades.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) last week released an analysis identifying the nation’s most polluting power plants. Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, the report examined power plant emissions of four highly toxic heavy metals. They found that most of the mercury, arsenic, and selenium released into our air can be traced to a relatively small of amount facilities.

“Half of all the mercury in the U.S. today comes from approximately 500 existing coal fired power plants,” said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal initiative, in a conference call for the report.

EIP associate director Ilan Levin added that only 47 facilities were responsible for “almost 60 percent of all power plant chromium emissions nationwide.”

“These chemicals are listed as hazardous air toxics for a reason—at high levels they are dangerous to people and the environments,” continued Levin. “For example, arsenic and chromium are human carcinogens, lead and mercury exposure are known to harm brain and nervous system development in infants and children. These are dangerous chemicals.”

Overall toxic emissions have declined over the past decade. But the EIP says the decrease is being driven by a few companies that are installing modern pollution controls, while the rest of the nation’s power plants are doing very little.

Nilles explained that the coal industry has managed to skirt regulations since 1990, when Congress put in place requirements for all other industries to take steps toward tougher pollution controls. When the legislation was passed, power plants were granted a special exemption, and the EPA was required to conduct a study to examine whether controlling power plant pollution was necessary and appropriate.

“If you step back and think about that, this loophole is pretty remarkable,” observed James Pew attorney for Earthjustice. “It’s essentially saying for an industrial category that everybody already knew was the worst polluter the EPA had to determine whether it was worth controlling.”

While the required study confirmed that power plants were indeed a major source of pollution, stricter standards were further delayed during the Bush administration. The industry insisted that curbing emissions was an impossible task, and some lawmakers were concerned that harsher regulations would significantly raise energy costs.

But experts say that the technology and pollution control equipment necessary to clean up toxic emissions has been widely available for years, and has already been working at some power plants across the country.

“This is not something we don’t know how to fix,” continued Nilles. “There are readily available technologies that are able to address mercury pollution and a host of other toxic pollutants that come from coal burning. We know from EPA studies that go back a decade that there is pollution technology available that would reduce mercury emissions 90 percent—from current levels of 34 tons to 5 tons.”

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Image from Flickr.

From Bloomberg News:

Holly Schean didn’t know what was on the other side of the hill near her parents’ home in Kingston, Tennessee. At 1 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2008, she found out. The earth split and toxic coal ash surged across a finger of the Emory River.

The 5.4-million-cubic-yard torrent from a slurry-filled pond owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority deposited the splintered house 10 yards from its foundation. It relocated a road and a rail line, choked waterways and created a moonscape of mounds residents dubbed “ashbergs.”

The hill “was real pretty,” said Schean, 28. “You never dreamed it was coal-ash pond. You never dreamed it would cause so much madness.”

The disaster prompted President Barack Obama to propose rules for the nation’s 678 such ponds — impoundments holding smokestack ash and water. Now, his coal-ash push is a symbol in the Republican campaign against what the party calls job-killing regulations as presidential candidates challenge the reach of government. The coal-ash regulation is one of six rules under consideration that the administration has said would cost industry more than $1 billion.

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The U.S. had other such spills in the past decade, in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and on Oct. 31 the wall of a Wisconsin coal-ash landfill collapsed into Lake Michigan. The Kingston accident, which will cost the TVA $1.2 billion to clean up, dwarfed them. The amount unleashed was enough to cover nearly 850 football fields to a depth of three feet — including end zones.

Last year, the administration proposed two possible rules for coal ash. The power industry supports one, environmentalists the other.

The first would let states regulate the substance, which contains toxins such as mercury and arsenic, as a nonhazardous solid waste. The second would classify it as hazardous and put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in charge.

Scott Segal, a power-industry lobbyist with the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm in Washington, said environmentalists and the EPA are exploiting the Kingston disaster.

“They couldn’t get a climate-change bill passed, so they want to diminish the coal industry in an extralegal way,” he said. “The way they do that is by changing its cost structure.”

More.


Synopsis from Culture Unplugged:

During the last 100 years, the world has experienced an enormous growth, unequaled in the entire history of mankind. Production has increased more than 13 times, and this enormous step is linked to our capacity of exploiting the fossil fuels – coal and oil. In early industrialization, smoky chimneys, swinging cranes and burning melting furnace were potent symbols of power, optimism and money. But progress had its price. During the 20th century, millions of people die of lung cancer, heart and respiratory diseases – only due to the air pollution in the big cities all over the world.

From Newcastle Herald:

Overwhelming evidence exists that coalmining and the burning of coal is harmful to health and can have a significant effect on communities, a medical study to be published today has found.

The Medical Journal of Australia article also declares that to persist in mining and burning coal will condemn future generations to catastrophic climate change, which the study’s authors say is the biggest health problem of the future.

The Hunter Valley is singled out as cause for concern, with a parallel drawn between coalmines opening and the region’s inhabitants developing depression, anxiety and ill health.

The authors, William Castleden, David Shearman, George Crisp and Philip Finch, are from Western Australia’s Fremantle Hospital, Perth Pain Management Centre and Murdoch University, and South Australia’s University of Adelaide and Doctors for the Environment Australia.

They said concerns about the expansion of coalmining were growing.

As a result, doctors were being asked about coal and its effects on health.

The article said Australian work on the subject was lacking, but limited evidence suggested health effects were similar to those reported in other developed countries, such as the United States.

Deaths and injuries to miners, lung disease, and coal transport’s traffic accident risk and greenhouse gas emissions are raised in the article.

So too potential environmental damage to water supplies and air pollution.

The Hunter Valley is highlighted in regard to social and mental health concerns.

‘‘Coalmining can change the lifestyle and character of a community,’’ the article said. ‘‘Medical practitioners in coalmining areas have reported that increases in asthma, stress and mental ill health have become more common.

‘‘As more coalmines are opened, as has occurred in the Hunter Valley in NSW, the social fabric of a region changes, the role and function of a township alters, and many inhabitants of these regions have developed depression, anxiety and ill health.’’

Also flagged in the study were the potentially heightened risk of premature death for people living near coal-burning power plants, and release of toxic elements with coal combustion, such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

More.

From

The Moapa River Indian Reservation, tribal home of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, sits about 30 miles north of Las Vegas and about 300 yards from the coal ash ponds and landfills of the Reid Gardner Power Station. Coal ash is the toxic ash and sludge left at the end of the coal burning process. It’s laced with arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals. It’s the second largest waste stream in America and it’s currently unregulated.

If the conditions are just wrong, coal ash picks up from Reid Gardner and moves across the desert like a toxic sandstorm sending the local residents running for their homes. The reservation has lung, heart and thyroid disease rates that are abnormally high and the power plant is currently seeking to expand its coal ash storage capability.

The film An Ill Wind tells the Paiute Indians’ story.

View and interactive presentation of the story here.

Watch the complete film here.

And learn more about coal ash here

From WFPL News:

You can’t see the smokestacks of the Cane Run Power Station from Stephanie Hogan’s home, even though she lives a block away. And while the power plant isn’t visible, it’s still a looming presence in Hogan’s life.

“Oh, he breathes so bad, he sounds like Darth Vader.” Hogan shakes her head, and her two-year-old son Cody wheezes. “You ain’t even been running.”

The family bought their trailer near the Louisville Gas and Electric-operated power plant about 15 months ago, and since then, Cody has developed serious respiratory problems. Eventually, his mom took him to a specialist, who pinpointed the potential cause of Cody’s sickness.

“I think it was the second visit, she asked where we lived,” Hogan said. “And I told her, and she said ‘oh, you live next to that power plant. You need to move.’”

But Hogan can’t move. She’s trapped by her trailer’s low resale value, as well as her son’s rising medical expenses. Cody has asthma. He’s had tubes installed in his ears twice and three times he’s come down with an unexplained fever. Hogan estimates she spent nearly $4,000 in doctor’s visits and medication last year.

She says the culprit is coal ash: the sometimes-fine, sometimes-chunky material that’s leftover after coal is burned. It coats her porch, and she doesn’t let Cody play outside anymore, no matter how much he begs.

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Coal generates more than half of the nation’s energy and it’s burned in power plants in all but four states. One inevitable byproduct of burning coal is ash, and there’s a lot of coal ash in America.

So much, in fact, that “you could fill the boxcars of a freight train that would stretch from New York City to Melbourne, Australia every year with the coal ash that American power plants generate,” Jeff Stant said. He’s the director of the Environmental Integrity Project’s Coal Combustion Waste Initiative.

“A lot of this ash has got the consistency of talc. People breathe it in, their lungs never get rid of it. It has metals that cross the lung’s tissue into the blood stream. There have been studies done of the exposure of rats to this dust and other lab animals, and the results have been very disturbing.”

At the Cane Run plant, the ash is stored in a landfill and a pond. The pond is invisible from the road, but the landfill is pretty obvious: huge piles of slate-grey coal ash rising off the banks of the Ohio River. At the base of the landfill is a pauper’s cemetery.

“It’s kinda fitting, you know,” Kathy Little said, walking through the cemetery. “It really is because that’s where they want to be, within the poorest of the poor areas.”

Little lives in one of the houses facing the power plant. The Cane Run Power Station is one of three area LG&E coal-fired plants. It burns 1.3 million tons of coal every year. Last year, it produced 160,000 tons of coal ash.

Before the ash is placed in a landfill, it’s mixed with different materials that create a cement-like consistency. It’s loaded into piles, which is where LG&E’s Mike Winkler says it stays.

“It’s plenty heavy enough to stay in place,” he said. “And during the placement process if it’s too dry, then it’s wetted. We’ll have trucks that come through and spray it to give it wetness. But it’s got enough moisture in it that it doesn’t blow off in general.”

But as we walk down the street, Little points to the air above the landfill.

“Yeah. There it goes,” she said. “You see the black up there? If you notice, you’ll see some ash blowing. That’s what they’re trying to keep on their property, and it’s not happening.”

Sure enough, ash wisps are flying off. They end up on nearby porches and siding. For the neighbors, this is annoying, and also worrisome. Samples taken by the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District and, most recently, LG&E itself have confirmed the presence of fly ash on several area homes.

More.

From iWatch:

With a handful of Democratic votes, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill Wednesday that limits the EPA’s ability to regulate coal ash and says coal ash residue deserves little more scrutiny and regulation than municipal trash.

Instead of giving the Environmental Protection Agency the mandate to regulate coal ash, the bill puts the onus on states to set up a program to deal with the issue. EPA would provide oversight. The bill passed by a 35-12 vote, with six Democrats joining the GOP.

As iWatch News has reported, coal ash’s metals have poisoned water supplies, damaged ecosystems and jeopardized the health of nearby residents. EPA has faced stiff resistance in trying to regulate the material as hazardous waste, led by coal-supported politicians such as one of the bill’s biggest proponents, David McKinley, R-W.Va.

“I’m going to defend the coal industry all across America,” McKinley said Wednesday. “We cannot afford any further attack in this war on coal.”

More.

From iWatch:

Stand before the pond known here in southwestern Pennsylvania as Little Blue Run, and you’ll see nothing that resembles its bucolic-sounding name.

The one-time stream is now an industrial pond, filled with arsenic-laced waste from a coal-fired power plant. The pond spans nearly 1,000 acres of rolling, rural landscape in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along the Ohio River. Millions of tons of coal ash have landed in the 35-year-old dump, looming over some 50,000 people in southeastern Ohio, held back by a 400-foot-tall dam, that federal regulators have deemed a “high hazard” to human life if it ever let loose.

Here in tiny Greene Township, where the pond consumes more than 10 percent of the total land, Little Blue Run seems a wasteland.

Coal ash, tinted blue, has overtaken the valley, rising each year by a million tons, blanketing the trees so they look like pixie sticks. Residents say dry ash wafts into their yards, its sulfuric smell burning their throats. At night, they hear a swooshing sound as coal ash cascades down a pipe stretching seven miles from the Bruce Mansfield Power Station, in Shippingport, Pa.

“It will keep rising,” says Marci Carpenter, who lives in a neighborhood dotted with vacant properties and abandoned homes, “and soon it’ll be above my house.”

Unless, that is, coal ash is regulated by the federal government.

More.

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From :

Coal ash. It’s a byproduct of electric power plants. Residents near what is believed to be the largest dump site east of the Mississippi have lived with the environmental consequences for years. But now there’s new hope that proposed federal regulation may change the industry’s practices.

From :

“The GenOn coal plant is a serious polluter… but it’s also an extraordinary symbol of the way we get electricity in this country.”

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