At Alabama Power’s Plant Barry, more than 21 million tons of coal ash fill an unlined pond. The Mobile River surrounds this toxic stash on three sides, with wetlands, Mobile Bay and the Mobile-Tensaw Delta close by. Now Alabama Power plans to do a “cap-in-place” disposal method. This means the company would remove water from the pond, pack soil around it, then seal the ash with a combination of crushed rock, artificial turf and plastic. Alabama Power says this is enough. Others say that ash is going to leach into the groundwater and beyond.
“We’ve got an A-bomb up the river,” said local fisherman John Howard, as reported by CNN. “It’s just waiting to happen.”
Environmentalists say the coal ash needs to be excavated and moved away from water systems, a much costlier process than cap-in-place. According to geologist Mark Hutson, coal ash must be permanently isolated from all types of water, including groundwater. To cap-in-place on an Alabama floodplain is a very bad idea. “No (new) waste disposal facility would be permitted in this physical location,” he declared, as reported by CNN.
Coal ash is the term used to describe what’s left after a utility burns coal. It’s nasty crud that includes non-biodegradable metals like mercury, chromium, lead, cadmium, selenium and arsenic, and it’s linked to health conditions like birth defects, lung disease and cancer. Coal ash is one of the top types of industrial waste in the U.S., and it’s a pain to dispose of. Before the Clean Air Act of 1970, things were easier for polluting industries, as they were free to pump coal ash into the air. Since then, the stuff has been piling up in ditches around facilities.
Don’t think you’re safe if you live in one of the other 49 states. Hundreds of coal ash sites lurk around the country, according to research done by Earthjustice. Many are close to rivers and flood zones since coal plants require a lot of water. Unfortunately, only about 40 of the companies bothered to put a protective liner in place before piling in the coal ash. At least 200 of these sites have already contaminated the nearby groundwater.
The Mobile Tensaw Delta is a beautiful area containing bogs, forests and cypress swamps. It’s been called “North America’s Amazon.” As Vaughn Millner of the Alabama Sierra Club pointed out in an opinion piece earlier this year, “In biodiversity, Alabama can be proud of moving up this year to a number 4 ranking in the US. Unfortunately, this achievement is coupled with the sad ranking of number 3 in the US for the highest number of endangered species, that is, those species at risk of complete extinction forever from the earth. Many of these threatened species are in the Mobile Tensaw Delta.”
Lead image via Pixabay