Back when most of us were rushing to do last minute holiday shopping this past Christmas, a break in a coal slurry dam resulted in millions of cubic gallons of coal ash spilling out, injuring several and devastating a large area in Tennessee. Public officials and most of the media helped to tamp down the story from becoming much of a sensation, but the damage still remains. What's worse, the Bush Administration suppressed a report concerning elevated cancer risks in the area. Now that Obama is in office we at least get to see that report, but the effects of coal ash reach much further than Tennessee.
From McClatchy DC:
WASHINGTON — People in 34 states who live near 210 coal ash lagoons or landfills with inadequate lining have a higher risk of cancer and other diseases from contaminants in their drinking water, two environmental groups reported on Thursday.
Twenty-one states have five or more of the high-risk disposal sites near coal-fired power plants. The groups -- the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice -- said that a 2002 Environmental Protection Agency document that the agency didn't release until March of this year adds information about toxic releases from these facilities to nearby water systems and data on how some contaminants accumulate in fish and deer and can harm the health of people who hunt and fish.
The report said that people who live near the most problematic disposal sites have as much as a 1-in-50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated by arsenic. The highest risk is for people who live near ash ponds with no liners and who get their water from wells.
Basically, you don't have to have a large disaster in order to suffer from the effects of coal ash and the ponds that supposedly help retain the substance. Coal power plants are run in such a way that the process ultimately ends up harming the local population. For all the touting we hear about coal and it's potential to be "clean," there's really nothing clean about it.