Here’s a pretty shocking fact: While many of us know that coal-fired power plants create significant air pollution, it turns out they’re one of our biggest water polluters, too. In fact, as we’ve developed technologies that take more toxins like mercury out of coal plant smokestacks, that pollution isn’t just disappearing. Much of it is ending up in the water, instead, and those pollution levels are on the rise. Fortunately, our Environmental Protection Agency can do something about it.
That’s right – the same power plants that are causing asthma and heart attacks with their soot and wrecking our climate with their carbon are also dumping tons of toxins into our waters. And without federal standards to safeguard our water, those plants will keep on sending toxic sludge into rivers and streams, where it threatens swimmers and boaters and anglers, poisons wildlife, wrecks ecosystems, and could even contaminate drinking water. The fouled waters pouring from coal plants are laced with arsenic, mercury, and selenium: toxins that build up in ecosystems and that are dangerous even in very small amounts.
If you’re a parent like me who loves to watch your child play in the local stream or lake, this information is infuriating and scary. The same goes if you’re a wildlife lover, or some who just enjoys the outdoors and believes our waterways should remain pristine.
Believe it or not, power plants dump more toxins into our rivers and streams than any other industry in the United States, including the chemical, plastic, and paint manufacturing industries. Your drinking water should be safe, because our cities and towns do a good job of filtering and cleaning it, but those in rural areas who rely on wells don’t have as much protection. Plus, our waterways, wildlife and ecosystems aren’t so lucky. Coal plants have caused nasty fish kills and their poison builds up in fishing lakes and reservoirs.
The problem’s only getting worse as coal plants get older. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the amount of toxic wastewater from these plants is going to increase 28% over the next 15 years. That means more heavy metals and more toxic sludge in more streams and rivers. More contaminated rivers, more unhealthy streams, more poisoned wildlife.
Thankfully the EPA and President Obama can protect our waterways from this toxic wastewater. The rules governing coal plant water pollution – known as effluent limitation guidelines – are more than thirty years old, and just don’t deal with most of the toxins these plants dump into our water. The good news is that EPA is now on track to propose a vitally needed update to those standards. The new safeguards are due out in mid-April – but the coal industry is already trying to block them. We need to tell the EPA and President Obama right now – before it’s too late – to give us safeguards against toxic wastewater.
Clean water is too precious to wait another day.
Enough is enough. We need these safeguards, and we ultimately need to move beyond coal. Every step we take toward clean air and water helps keep our communities and our environment healthy.
It also takes us one step closer to powering the U.S. with clean energy, as our nation realizes that coal’s real cost — in climate destruction, toxic water, and unhealthy air — is simply too high.