Toxic Coal Ash Threatens Groundwater and Public Health

MADISON — The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a proposal to create rules designed to protect groundwater and public health by regulating the disposal of toxic coal ash.

“Most people understand the high environmental cost of smoke pouring out of coal plants, but few people realize that the ash left behind also threatens our environment and our health,” said Katie Nekola, energy program director at Clean Wisconsin. “The EPA has regulated stack emissions for decades, and we’re happy to see they are now addressing a less visible but equally dangerous threat caused by burning dirty coal.”

Coal ash contains dangerous toxins including arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium that are associated with cancer and other serious health threats and can leach into groundwater. 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.

“Coal ash pollutes our environment and threatens the health of our families,” said Nekola. “It is one of the many high prices we pay for relying too heavily on coal to produce our electricity.”

Approximately 70 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.

The recent construction of power plants, new renewable energy projects, and state-wide energy efficiency efforts have created a large surplus of electrical generation capacity in the state that reduces the need for many of the state’s coal plants to continue producing power.

“With Wisconsin’s surplus of electrical capacity, we can afford to shut down the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the state,” said Nekola. “But, we cannot afford to continue polluting our lakes with mercury, air with soot and smog, and groundwater with toxic coal ash.”