The US has been using coal for years. Why stop now?

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of climate change pollution and greenhouse gases. Coal is also the largest source of human-made Mercury, pumping toxins into our air, water and even our own bodies.

Mercury exposure is serious problem for the lungs, brain, heart, stomach, kidneys, and the immune system. According to EPA, the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule will prevent 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, and 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms each year. The value of the air quality improvements for people’s health alone totals $37 billion to $90 billion each year. That means that for every dollar spent to reduce this pollution, Americans get $3-9 in health benefits.

This makes coal energy the single greatest threat facing our climate and one of the greatest preventable threats to our health.

Isn’t “clean coal technology” making coal cleaner?

After multi-million-dollar PR campaigns by the coal industry, many in government have become seduced by the illusion of “carbon-free coal.” The industry wants Americans to believe that coal can be made safe for the environment by capturing and permanently storing the global warming pollution. However, this technology, Carbon, Capture and Storage (CCS) has never been made to work. Yet  promises of CCS are being used to justify building new coal-fired plants. But any new coal-fired power plant will contribute massively to the climate crisis.

What is a coal ash pond?

An ash pond is an engineered structure for the disposal of fly ash. The wet disposal of fly ash into ash ponds is the most common fly ash disposal method, but other methods include dry disposal in landfills. Wet disposal has been preferred due to economic reasons, but increasing environmental concerns regarding leachate from ponds has decreased the popularity of wet disposal. The wet method consists of constructing a large “pond” and filling it with fly ash slurry, allowing the water to drain and evaporate from the fly ash over time.

What’s in coal ash?

Depending on where the coal was mined, coal ash typically contains heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, as well as aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, boron, chlorine, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, thallium, vanadium, and zinc. If eaten, drunk or inhaled, these toxicants can cause cancer and nervous system impacts such as cognitive deficits, developmental delays and behavioral problems. They can also cause heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, birth defects, and impaired bone growth in children. (source: Physicians for Social Responsibility)

How can coal ash affect my health?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that living next to a coal ash disposal site can increase your risk of cancer or other diseases. If you live near an unlined wet ash pond (surface impoundment) and you get your drinking water from a well, you may have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking arsenic-contaminated water. Arsenic is one of the most common, and most dangerous, pollutants from coal ash. The EPA also found that living near ash ponds increases the risk of damage from cadmium, lead, and other toxic metals.

What is mountaintop removal mining (MTR)?

Mountaintop removal mining (MTR), is a form of surface mining that involves the mining of the summit or summit ridge of a mountain. (Coal industry proponents often refer to MTR as mountaintop mining. Entire coal seams are removed from the top of a mountain, hill or ridge by removing the land, or “over-burden,” above them. The resulting debris is then piled back on the ridge to reflect the approximate original contour of the mountain. The excess amounts of land (soil, stones, flora, and fauna) that cannot be replaced on the ridge-top is moved into neighboring valleys and streams. It is the predominant method of coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States. The process involves blasting the mountain with explosives to remove up to 400 vertical feet of mountain to expose underlying coal seams. Excess rock and soil laden with toxic mining byproducts are often dumped into nearby valleys, in what are called “holler fills” or “valley fills.”

Why should I be concerned about MTR?

A January 2010 report in the journal Science reviews current peer-reviewed studies and water quality data and explores the consequences of mountaintop mining. It concludes that mountaintop mining has serious environmental impacts that mitigation practices cannot successfully address. For example, the extensive tracts of deciduous forests destroyed by mountaintop mining support several endangered species and some of the highest biodiversity in North America. There is a particular problem with burial of headwater streams by valley fills which causes permanent loss of ecosystems that play critical roles in ecological processes. In addition, increases in metal ions, pH, electrical conductivity, total dissolved solids due to elevated concentrations of sulfate are closely linked to the extent of mining in West Virginia watersheds. Declines in stream biodiversity have been linked to the level of mining disturbance in West Virginia watersheds.

Published studies also show a high potential for human health impacts. These may result from contact with streams or exposure to airborne toxins and dust. Adult hospitalization for chronic pulmonary disorders and hypertension are elevated as a result of county-level coal production. Rates of mortality, lung cancer, as well as chronic heart, lung and kidney disease are also increased.  A 2011 study found that counties in and near mountaintop mining areas had higher rates of birth defects for five out of six types of birth defects, including circulatory/respiratory, musculoskeletal, central nervous system, gastrointestinal, and urogenital defects. These defect rates were more pronounced in the most recent period studied, suggesting the health effects of mountaintop mining-related air and water contamination may be cumulative. Another 2011 study found “the odds for reporting cancer were twice as high in the mountaintop mining environment compared to the non mining environment in ways not explained by age, sex, smoking, occupational exposure, or family cancer history.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Coal burned at Riverbend comes from Mountaintop Removal Mining, primarily in West Virginia.

How many residents rely on Mountain Island Lake for drinking water?

Approximately 860,000 according to the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.

How much does Duke Energy rely on coal?

According to Duke Energy’s 2011/2012 Sustainability Report, 47% of the company’s power generation comes from coal. The report states that Duke generates 22% of energy from natural gas/fuel oil, 19% from nuclear and 12% from hydro. Duke Energy was ranked the 11th worst company for the planet by Newsweek in 2009.

Is it safe to eat fish caught in Mountain Island Lake?

There are advisories for unsafe levels of metals and PCBs in catfish and large mouth bass caught from Mountain Island Lake. No one should eat catfish caught from Mountain Island Lake. Women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under age 15 should not consume large mouth bass from Mountain Island Lake. All other persons should eat large mouth bass no more than two times per month. Click here to see the full advisories from the Catawba Riverkeeper.

How do toxins accumulate in fish in Mountain Island Lake?

Small levels of chemicals found in environmental media – soil, air, and water – are absorbed by plants and animals at the bottom of the food chain. When predators eat these animals, they ingest all the toxins that have accumulated in their food, and as these chemicals move up the food chain they become more and more concentrated. Since humans are at the top of the food chain, all of the toxic chemicals that accumulate in our food end up in our bodies at much higher concentrations than those found in the environment. This is how we are exposed to chemicals that are found in minute quantities in the environment, even chemicals that are no longer used or heavily regulated – such as dioxins, DDT, PCBs, pesticides, mercury, and others. (source: Catawba Riverkeeper)

When will Riverbend close?

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers has stated that Riverbend Steam Station will close in 2015 in order for Duke to comply with the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

What will happen to the ash ponds?

Duke Energy has not made an official statement regarding the ash ponds. What will happen to them in 2015 is unclear. There are no legal requirements from state or federal government for Duke Energy to do anything with the ash ponds, even after Riverbend closes.


Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency, Catawba Riverkeeper, Duke Energy, Greenpeace, Wikipedia, Physcians for Social Responsibility.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s