On December 22nd, 2008, a horrendous catastrophe occurred near Kingston, Tennessee. A catastrophe that requires $1 billion dollars and many years of clean up. It was the biggest environmental disaster since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Sadly, it was the also the first time that the dangers of unregulated coal sludge dumping ponds were exposed to our forefront. Another tragedy that could have been prevented with only a little oversight.
We burn coal to produce energy to power our lives. Fair enough. But what happens when we burn coal? Most people know that gases are released into the atmosphere; gases that aren’t exactly curbing climate change. Most people however also fail to realize that another byproduct of coal burning is ash. Toxic ash containing high concentrations of arsenic and mercury, and lots of it. 140 million tons of ash every year in the United States, to be exact.
Where do 140 million tons of ash go? Well, just like any trash, it gets dumped somewhere. Okay, so facilities exist to contain this sludge, right? Wrong. Over 35 years of heavy lobbying have saved the coal industry from coal sludge regulations; coal ash has been getting dumped into ponds, lagoons, and ditches for decades. There are so few regulations on disposing the ash that lining these dumping areas with a protective cover is OPTIONAL. For over 35 years, members of the Congress of the United States have been bullied and bought into designating coal ash as nontoxic. Yes, arsenic, mercury, and other toxic carcinogens, all part of coal sludge, are free to seep into the groundwater and pollute our rivers and lakes, and thus, our drinking water and our health. In 2007, Scientific American came out with an article stating that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste. In 2007 as well, a study by the EPA reported that people who live in areas near unlined ash ponds have a 2000 times greater chance of developing cancer from arsenic contamination. That number pertains to humans only, but I can guess that coal sludge probably isn’t part of a thriving ecosystem.
Call me crazy, but this kind of unified corporate irresponsibility is despicable. I am realistic, and I understand that we are reliant on coal power. But to just dump toxic ash into unlined ponds, without any kind of respect for the environment or the people, it’s just wrong.
If this upsets you even in the slightest bit; if it makes you sympathize with your fellow countrymen who have to live in communities that have been ransacked by Big Coal; if it makes you despise the coal industry, blinded by profit, for their inability to act with respect towards our country, our people and our environment, send a message to President Obama today.