Minority communities suffer from EPA laxism on coal ash

From ToxicLeaks

Coal isn't only bad for global warming, it's also the source of large amounts of waste that cause horrible pollution. A health crisis is unfolding in Uniontown, Alabama, where a coal ash landfill is poisoning the lives of the mainly black residents. The weak regulations of the EPA are to blame for this. This is the sign that the most economically vulnerable people are the first to suffer from the environmental crimes of fossil fuel corporations.

A major health crisis in Uniontown Alabama[edit | edit source]

Esther Calhoun, a resident from Uniontown, Alabama, recently came to tell the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington DC what the situation was in her town. And her story was frightful. "If you come to Uniontown, you'll see this mountain of coal ash," Esther said. "You would see that no one should live this close to coal ash. No one in their right mind would want to live this close to coal ash." This ash comes from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant where a dam holding vast amounts of coal ash ruptured in 2008. Four tons of the coal byproducts were then transported to Uniontown where they were put in a landfill, uncovered and with no lining to prevent the waste from leaching into the ground. The smell from the coal dump is putrid and makes the people sick. They don't know if they can stay outside or eat the vegetables from their garden or if that will make them sick as well. And many people, including Esther, have developed serious diseases : "I am only 51 years old and I have neuropathy (...). The neurologist said that it may be caused by lead, and it is not going to get better." The worse part is that the dangers of coal ash are already well known and that the situation in Uniontown should not have happened.

A dirty energy that produces vast amounts of dangerous waste[edit | edit source]

Even though the coal industry is gradually disappearing, coal pollution is still a very important hazard in the US. The coal-fired power stations still running produce about 130 million tons of coal ash per year, which is over 800 pounds for every person in the US. This coal ash is the byproduct of the combustion of coal in the power plants. Some of it is powdery and can very easily be carried by the wind when stored in uncovered landfills like the one in Uniontown. The other kind of coal ash is more sludgy and can seep into the ground when put in unlined ponds, again, quite like the landfill in Uniontown. This causes a major threat for the people living close by because of the chemical composition of coal ash. It contains arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium and thallium, a deadly cocktail that can cause countless health issues. The EPA knows about this and assesses that living close to a coal ash disposal site gives one a 2 % likelihood of getting cancer because of the polluted water. The government agency has already discovered 160 coal ash storage sites that are responsible for water poisoning. However, nothing was done to protect the people in Uniontown. In this case both the TVA, a federally owned company, and the EPA are guilty of putting these people at risk. And the fact that this was a poor, mainly black town makes their crime even worse.

A case of environmental racism[edit | edit source]

Esther Calhoun and the people of Uniontown are not the only minority victims of these environmental crimes. The Commission on Civil Rights also heard some people from minorities voicing concerns about coal ash in Waukegan, Illinois, and Florence, South Carolina. Again this exposed the sufferings of minority communities because of coal ash pollution. The EPA realized that poor people, from minorities, are more affected than white people by the coal ash. These affected communities represent about 1.5 million people and they are the symbol of the viciousness of fossil fuels. While fossil fuel profits enrich white people like Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil who gets about $40 million a year, the minorities are the ones that have to pay with their health. And this has been going on for a while because of the laxism of the EPA.

A history of coal ash disasters because of EPA laxism[edit | edit source]

The EPA has a great responsibility in these coal ash water contamination disasters that have been happening again and again. Uniontown's problems originally come from another coal ash disaster, the rupture of a dam at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant. This caused more than 1 billion gallons of coal ash to wash over an area of 300 acres, destroying houses, sullying rivers and even forming “ash bergs” of coal floating down the Emory River. The waste caused a tremendous arsenic contamination of the water supply, with rates 149 times bigger than the standard. This was a terrible disaster but the story of Uniontown shows that instead of addressing the issue it was just moved somewhere else, where new people would be poisoned. Other examples illustrate the threat of coal ash, like the contamination of lake Michigan in 2011 or a when Duke Energy spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into Dan River, in North Carolina, in 2013. Coal companies did this of course, but the EPA let them do it. No rules concerning the management of coal ash existed up to 2014 ! Since then, the EPA rules state that coal ash should be stored in safe, lined and covered storage facilities, to prevent the coal ash from flying off or leaching into the ground. But these rules are not enforceable, because states don't have to adopt them. And since storing coal ash safely is much more expensive than just dumping it the way TVA did in Uniontown, coal companies continue to put the lives of people at risk to preserve their profits. And minorities are the first to suffer.