The Slatest

Nearly All Coal-Fired Power Plants in U.S. Are Contaminating Nearby Groundwater, New Report Finds

President Trump speaks during a political rally at Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia beneath a sign that reads "Trump digs coal."
Get’er done.
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Nearly all coal-fired plants in operation in the U.S. have leaked chemicals and contaminated the local groundwater supply with toxins, according to a report released Monday by environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice. The alarming, though perhaps not altogether surprising report, found that a whopping 91 percent of power plants using coal had higher than normal levels of arsenic, lithium, and other pollutants in nearby groundwater, in some cases at levels that far exceeded what is allowable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The data released by the groups, which was obtained thanks to a 2015 regulation that required monitoring and disclosure of nearby groundwater by most coal plants, showed that 241 of the 265 plants across the country showed unsafe levels of chemicals derived from coal ash, which is the residue of burning coal for energy. “The report also found that 52 percent of those plants had unsafe levels of cancer-causing arsenic in nearby groundwater, while 60 percent showed unsafe levels of lithium, which can cause neurological damage,” according to Reuters. “Amid strong pressure from utility and coal companies, the EPA under President Donald Trump last July revised the 2015 rule to suspend groundwater monitoring requirements at coal ash sites if it is determined there is no potential for pollutants to move into certain aquifers.”

From the Washington Post:

The examples span the country. At a family ranch south of San Antonio, a dozen pollutants have leaked from a nearby coal ash dump, data showed. Groundwater at one Maryland landfill that contains ash from three coal plants was contaminated with eight pollutants. In Pennsylvania, levels of arsenic in the groundwater near a former coal plant were several hundred times the level the EPA considers safe for drinking.

“The report acknowledges that the groundwater data alone does not prove that drinking-water supplies near the coal waste facilities have been contaminated,” the Post notes. “Power companies are not routinely required to test nearby drinking water wells.” That means, according to the report, “the scope of the threat is largely undefined.”