Nearby residents should be concerned about bluff collapse at We Energies’ Oak Creek plant
MILWAUKEE — Monday’s bluff collapse at We Energies’ Oak Creek coal plant sent a substantial amount of coal ash into Lake Michigan. Coal ash is a dangerous byproduct of burning coal to make electricity, yet has potentially toxic health effects if it enters our groundwater.
“We Energies said in an update on its website today that coal ash is ‘not a hazardous material,’” says Katie Nekola, attorney for Clean Wisconsin, “but that is far from true. The fact is, coal ash contains chemicals and compounds that are dangerous to human health. This disaster proves that we need better regulation of coal ash and that the public deserves the right to know what’s in their drinking water.”
Coal ash contains 24 known pollutants, some of which, according to the National Resource Council, are toxic even in miniscule quantities. Those toxins include: arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, and dioxins, along with other chemicals and compounds.
These toxins can cause serious health problems including cancers, central nervous system damage, and blood and kidney disorders. Coal ash dump ponds and landfills are often unlined, and arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium can leach into local drinking water. One Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that residents living near unlined ash ponds run a risk of cancer from arsenic contamination that is 2,000 times greater than the EPA’s threshold for acceptable risk. At Oak Creek, the coal ash came from a decades-old, closed coal ash landfill. This spill comes at a time when Congress is considering limiting EPA’s authority to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.
“This landslide poured toxic materials directly into Lake Michigan, which 10 million people rely on for drinking water,” said Nekola. “Area residents should insist that We Energies and state regulators ensure the safety of their water supplies as soon as possible.”