Rules could help protect Wisconsin’s groundwater from toxic contamination

MADISON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today published two alternative proposals to regulate the disposal and storage of toxic coal ash: one that would classify coal ash as a hazardous waste and another that would regulate it as non-hazardous.

“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,” said Katie Nekola, energy program director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “With 18 coal ash ponds containing over 44 million gallons of toxic coal waste and a number of coal ash landfills in Wisconsin, strong regulations are necessary to protect our families from the dangers of contaminated drinking water.”

Coal ash stored in unlined mines, quarries, and landfills represents a significant health threat to Wisconsin families. The EPA has identified many wells near coal ash disposal sites in Wisconsin containing levels of toxins that exceed health standards.Groundwater monitoring completed between 1988 and 1998 near Wisconsin Electric Power Company’s Highway 59 Landfill located in Waukesha County found levels of sulfate, boron, manganese, chloride, iron and arsenic exceeding state safety standards.

“Improperly stored coal ash threatens the safety of the water our families drink every day,” said Nekola. “We need strict standards to address this dangerous environmental and health threat.”

Under one proposed rule, coal ash would be classified as a “special waste” subject to hazardous waste management standards and the EPA would be granted authority to federally monitor and enforce standardized ash disposal requirements.The other proposed rule would establish suggested guidelines for states but would not require states to implement or enforce these guidelines. The EPA opened a 90 day public comment period on both rules today.

“The difference between the two options will determine whether communities living near ash disposal sites are protected from the public health costs of dangerous pollutants leaching into water supplies. With the safety of our drinking water and the health of our families at stake, it’s important for the EPA to pass the strongest measures possible,” said Nekola. “We encourage Wisconsin residents to contact the EPA and tell them to protect our families and our groundwater by regulating coal ash as the hazardous waste that it is.”