ICYMI here's the “Too Long Didn't Read” Cliff's Note version of this past week's cover story on the giant pile of coal ash that threatens the groundwater and health of a small town in Utah's coal country.---
Takeaway 1: The town of East Carbon in Carbon County is home to a 75-acre “coal-ash” landfill. Coal ash is a misunderstood form of pollution from the fossil-fuel industry that is the byproduct of coal-fired power plants that has to be packed into landfills. Coal ash often contains toxic chemicals like arsenic, selenium and lead. While many researchers say a simple synthetic liner placed at the bottom of a landfill can help prevent chemicals from leaching into the groundwater there isn't one at the landfill near East Carbon. Now in 2013 the landfill is hoping to expand and add another 34 acres, and again no liner will be placed and Utah water regulators agree there isn't need of one.
Takeaway 2: Several town residents have joined environmental advocates of HEAL Utah to file a complaint against the Utah Department of Water Quality for approving the landfill expansion. In the complaint town residents complain of trucks passing through town with coal ash blowing out the back. When a wind picks up residents complain of ash blowing of the landfill and covering their homes and cars in a layer of soot.
Takeaway 3: The larger concern, however, is groundwater. While the UDWQ says there is a layer of Mancos shale under the landfill that acts as a natural barrier, Brigham Young University geologist Steve Nelson did research that challenges that claim. His research also challenges the claim made by UDWQ that reports of chemicals reported in the groundwater that were out of legal compliance, were “naturally” occurring and could be explained by natural variations that happened during a drought. Nelson, however, compared the chemicals underneath the landfill to those outside of it and found the contaminates consistently spiked under the landfill as opposed to outside of it—even during the drought.
Takeaway 4: Nelson's research came after HEAL had to request data that UDWQ provided only months after the close of the public comment period on the proposed expansion, and after UDWQ gave the go-ahead for the expansion of the project. HEAL questions why the public didn't have the most relevant information available to them during the public comment period.
Takeaway 5: Stricter clean-air emission regulations will mean more toxic chemicals wind up in coal ash. It's a conundrum advocates worry about because while regulations require coal-fired power plants work better at keeping toxins out of the air, those toxins are simply displaced into coal ash, which means in the future more and more toxins will be in coal ash landfills near communities just like East Carbon.
To read the full story click here