Air and Water Pollution

Riverbend Steam Station, the coal-fired power plant on Mountain Island Lake is polluting our air and water.

Riverbend Steam Station June 28, 2012

Air Pollution

Built in 1929, Riverbend is not fitted with the most recent pollution controls. As a result, it emits more mercury than both Allen Steam Station (on Lake Wylie) and Marshall Steam Station (on Lake Norman) combined. In addition to mercury, Riverbend also emits sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, soot, arsenic, lead, chromium, selenium and cadmium.

Approximately 13,000 children have lifelong learning disabilities as the result of mercury exposure in North Carolina, according to the state’s epidemiologist.

The American Lung Association (ALA) recently released a new report on the dramatic health hazards surrounding coal-fired power plants. The report, “Toxic Air: The Case For Cleaning Up Coal-Fired Power Plants,” reveals that “Particle pollution from power plants is estimated to kill approximately 13,000 people a year.”

What’s the biggest culprit? “Coal-fired power plants that sell electricity to the grid produce more hazardous air pollution in the U.S. than any other industrial pollution sources.”

Water Pollution

Not only is Riverbend polluting the air, it’s also polluting the lake. There are two massive coal ash ponds on the Riverbend site that drain into Mountain Island Lake — our drinking water. One pond is 41 acres and 80 feet deep and the other is 28 acres and 70 feet deep. These two ponds can hold 3,200,000 cubic yards of ash and coal waste. There are no liners in the ponds to protect soil or groundwater.

These two ponds are both rated as “High Hazard” by the EPA, meaning their failure would likely cause loss of human life. Water containing arsenic is released from these ponds every day into Mountain Island Lake. There are no regulations controlling how much arsenic can be put into the lake.

All coal ash ponds in North Carolina, including the two at Riverbend, are leaching toxic contaminants into groundwater. An in-depth review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds located next to all 14 coal-burning power plants in North Carolina has revealed that all of them are contaminating groundwater with toxic metals and other pollutants — in some cases at levels exceeding 380 times state groundwater standards.

The analysis was conducted by Appalachian Voices’ Upper Watauga Riverkeeper team based on data submitted to state regulators by Duke Energy and Progress Energy, the state’s two largest investor-owned electric utilities. The companies conducted the tests as part of a self-monitoring agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Neither has disputed the results.

Coal ash contains heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a threat to water supplies and human health. Yet coal ash ponds are not subject to any federal regulation, and there is little monitoring of their effects on the surrounding environment.

(sources:  NY Times, Catawba Riverkeeper, American Lung Association)

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