EPA’s Latest Coal Waste Installment: More Ponds. Less Worry?

It seems the more the Environmental Protection Agency digs, the more coal ash waste ponds are found, but a coal group exec assures us that all is quiet. Ah, well, no worries then.

Here’s a look at EPA’s movement on the coal ash front since a certain red-letter day in December 2008.

Wet Waste Ponds

March 2009: EPA estimates the number of U.S. impoundments holding wet coal waste: 300

August 2009: EPA estimates the number of impoundments holding wet coal waste in 35 states: 584

September 2009: Number of spills listed [pdf] at these impoundments since 2000: 40

Note: According to EPA, no impoundments at any Tennessee Valley Authority sites have had spills. Strange, because one of the biggest national news stories of December 2008 was the devastating coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee (followed a month later by a smaller spill at Widow’s Creek, Alabama). Ring a bell? (Here’s EPA’s information on its response to the Kingston spill.)

Also of note: TVA lists only two of the three holding units at Kingston: the main ash pond and the stilling pond. Unlisted are the dredge cells — an odd omission because those are what failed last Christmas releasing 5.4 million cubic yards of wet toxic sludge into the area — or enough waste to fill 1,650 Olympic swimming pools. Hard to forget the spill that put coal ash hazards on the map.

High-Hazard Waste Ponds

June 2009: EPA discloses the locations of the high-hazard impoundments identified by the utilities as such; this subset of the total number of identified impoundments totals: 44

Note: No TVA facilities are on the list.

September 2009: EPA updates its list of utility-identified high-hazard impoundments: 49

Note: This time five TVA impoundments are included, but none from the Kingston plant.

September 2009: Number of the 584 impoundments identified that have no hazard rating: 390

Looking Good

Last week, after reviewing the EPA data, Jim Roewer, the executive director of a consortium of electricity producers, stated, as quoted by The Associated Press: “There are no ticking time bombs. We are confident that there is not another Tennessee Valley Authority waiting to happen.”

Do you find that as reassuring as I do?


End Notes

The hazard rating pertains not to the integrity of the storage units but rather to what might be threatened if a unit were to fail. EPA defines “high-hazard potential rating” to mean “that a failure will probably cause loss of human life.”

EPA data are reported by the utilities themselves. Spills without dates or spills occurring prior to 2000 are not included. TVA supplied no information on historical spills, but under “additional data” did indicate that four impoundments have seepage.

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