Clean coal. Really? When?
Pick up a lump of coal and rub it in your hands. It leaves a black residue. Mine coal from deep in the earth and that dust may give you black lung disease. Blow off a mountain top to get at it and the results include damage to nearby residences, fouling drinking water, and clogging clear streams with sediment run off. That’s not clean, that’s messy.
Even messier are coal ash spills. Ash is formed when coal is burned for energy and is stored in waste ponds. This byproduct of the coal industry contains toxins, heavy metals and carcinogens such as selenium, mercury, and arsenic. A huge spill occurred in 2008 at the Roane Co., Tenn., Kingston Fossil Plant when a waste pond ruptured. Over a billion gallons of coal ash were released, polluting local waters and killing fish that lived within them. So far, cost of the clean up has reached $1.2 billion.
We may face the same peril. Two ash ponds totaling about 82 acres are a source of concern for area conservation groups. Owned by Santee Cooper, the ponds could dump as much as 650,000 tons of coal ash into the Waccamaw River in the event of a breach or even during a flood or hurricane. The desired outcome for these ponds is that they be relocated to a safely lined waste landfill as well as cleanup of the contamination they have caused.
Santee Cooper does not seem to be concerned with the threat to the environment and population that the ponds have, are, and could pose in the future. However, the threat is very real. According to a recent report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, spills from coal ash ponds have caused an estimated $2.3 billion in damage to fish and wildlife over the past 45 years. In the 1990s at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, researchers discovered tadpoles living in old ash basins with deformed mouths due to exposure to selenium. Deformed fish were also found.
Santee Cooper needs to clean up its act. DHEC needs to do its job – they have allowed the utility to operate far too long under expired permits. And we all need to call on our state and local governments to keep an eye on this dangerous situation. After a disaster will be too late.
The writer lives in Conway.