Majority Of U.S. Coal Plants Contaminating Groundwater With Toxic Chemicals, Report Finds

March 4, 2019, 4:51 PM UTC

Most U.S. coal plants are contaminating nearby groundwater with toxic chemicals, including arsenic, lithium, and chromium, a new analysis by environmental groups released Monday found.

The report, published by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, found that 91% of U.S. coal-fired power plants (or 242 of the 265 plants that monitor groundwater) were contaminating the water. More than half of these plants reported unsafe levels of arsenic, which is linked to cancer; and lithium, linked to neurological damage, The Guardian reports.

During his 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump vowed to revive the coal industry by rolling back Obama-era regulations on mining. In 2017, the president signed an executive order to overturn the Clean Power Plan, a set of Environmental Protection Agency regulations that sought to cut carbon dioxide emissions, which come mostly from coal-fired plants. The EPA is now being run by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist.

“At a time when the EPA — now being run by a coal lobbyist — is trying to roll back federal regulations on coal ash, these new data provide convincing evidence that we should be moving in the opposite direction,” Abel Russ, lead author of the report and attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement.

Russ told The Guardian: “The pollution is basically everywhere you look.”

The report noted that the data alone does not prove that drinking water supplies near coal facilities are contaminated, but added that the companies are not required to routinely test drinking water wells, according to the Washington Post.

It also detailed instances of coal-contaminated residential drinking water, mostly in rural areas including parts of Illinois, Maryland, and Montana, with one of the most contaminated sites in the country in Belmont, N.C.

When reached for comment, an EPA spokesperson told Fortune that the agency is currently reviewing the Environmental Integrity Project report. The spokesperson added: “The federal regulations for the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR), finalized in 2015, require groundwater monitoring as a first step in a process to monitor and assess contaminants from CCR units. Where contamination is detected above specified levels, the regulations require the owner or operator of the facility to initiate measures to clean up the contamination.”

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