The Dirty Little Secret of the Coal Industry

With the coal ash spill of Harriman, Tennessee on December 12th, 2008, anyone who was watching the news for that brief second that day was alerted the the greatest environmental disaster of our history. Shock followed by sympathy was felt by anyone who saw the pictures of the devastation. “What a shame that those poor people have to suffer from someone else’s mistakes. Gee, someone needs to do something about it! I hope the problem gets corrected.” Seems to be that the attention span of anyone watching is short lived by the underlining feeling of “How does this effect me?”

What most people don’t realize is that in many ways the actions of the coal industries effect everyone. It’s not just Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee that bear the brunt of the of the cost of living amongst the coal industry. States like Utah, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Washington DC and Wisconsin are also directly affected by how the coal industry operates.

And what does the industry do beside provide jobs and power to the people of their state and beyond? Well, we know about the air pollution and the deaths that occur when a mine collapses. And now we are aware of the environmental disasters of coal ash leakage. But is the public aware of the coal industry’s dirty little secret?

It is common practice for the coal industry to dump coal combustion waste that contains toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead, thallium and toxic chemicals including PCBs and dioxin along with other industrial byproducts such as shredded cars, oil combustion waste, railroad ties, plastics and tires into unlined ponds and landfills like the one that collapsed in Tennessee.

Dumping the material into mines is even more dangerous, as it puts toxins into direct contact with groundwater. Earthjustice estimates that about 25 million tons of coal combustion waste — 20 percent of all such waste generated — is dumped into mines each year. The practice is occurring throughout the U.S. coalfields, including West Virginia and Texas, and presents a serious threat to public health. This presents a serious threat to the public. This practice is barely regulated and “in fact, the only state that has in place regulations for coal ash mine-filling recommended by the National Academy of Sciences is Kentucky.”

What is the EPA doing about it? Very little. What are the congressman of those states doing about it? Well, just keep in mind where our Senators get the power for the Capitol Bldg in Washington, DC – The Capitol Power Plant which burned 17,108 tons of coal in 2006, producing about 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Institute For Southern Studies

Earth Justice

3 comments on “The Dirty Little Secret of the Coal Industry

  1. Michael Ashcroft

    As far as I’m aware, none. I wouldn’t dream of arguing that nuclear power is a more elegant source of energy generation than, say, solar panels.That said, please tell me what could provide a base load supply? Without significant advances in energy storage technology, wind and solar alone just won’t cut it.Also, the fact that there’s 100 times the amount of radioactive material in coal ash as there is in nuclear waste, and no one really cares, does seem to imply that the “fear” of nuclear waste has been somewhat hyped.

  2. snilon

    Yes, it is a shame. But you have also touched on another key point: the radiation of a nuclear power plant.How much radiation is emitted in a wind or solar plant?

  3. Michael Ashcroft

    Did you know, also, that:the fly ash emitted by a power plant — a by-product from burning coal for electricity — carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.Source: Scientific AmericanShame it’s such a cheap and abundant source of energy, eh?

Comments are closed.