New report may uncover source of carcinogen in water

MADISON – A new report may shed light on the source of cancer-causing chromium VI recently found in tap water tested in Milwaukee and Madison.

A report released last week by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project, called EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash, identifies coal ash as a leading source of chromium VI contamination.

“The amount of chromium released by our nation’s coal-burning power plants dwarfs all other industrial sources… Between 2000 and 2009, over 116 million pounds of chromium compounds were released from coal-fired power plants. The overwhelming majority of this chromium ends up in unlined or inadequately lined coal ash landfills, ponds and mines,” reads the report. “Coal ash can leach deadly quantities of Cr(VI) to drinking water.”

Wisconsin currently has 18 coal ash ponds containing over 44 million gallons of toxic coal waste, as well as an uncounted number of coal ash landfills. Coal plants in the state generate an additional 1.4 million tons of coal waste every year.

An earlier report released by the Environmental Working Group in December 2010 found Chromium VI in water tested from 31 of 35 cities tested, including Madison and Milwaukee. Subsequent tests confirmed the presence of the carcinogen in drinking water at both locations.

“We knew that coal ash was contaminating Wisconsin’s drinking water with dozens of harmful chemicals. Now another proven carcinogen, chromium VI, makes the list,” said Katy Walter, clean energy advocate at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “Clearly, we need strong, enforceable rules governing the disposal of toxic coal ash.”

Groundwater tested from two sites near unlined coal ash ponds in Wisconsin – one in Cassville and another at Lemberger Landfill – both reported levels of chromium exceeding the federal health standards, according to the report.

“Coal ash is a dangerous waste that is likely responsible for the Chromium VI contamination in Wisconsin’s water,” said Walter. “When we can no longer trust the safety of our drinking water, something must be done.”