Commentary: The silent danger of coal-ash ponds

This editorial appeared in The Lexington Herald-Leader.

No one could dismiss the danger last December when billions of tons of fly ash and sludge containing toxins spewed from a broken pond at the TVA power plant in Kingston, Tenn., or when, in 2000, a huge spill from a coal slurry pond occurred in Martin County.

Last week, two environmental groups released a report laying out a quieter disaster at hand. Kentucky is home to ponds – called impoundments – that, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, pose the greatest risk to the environment and to humans because they can leak those same toxins into our water.

No breaks, no dramatic spills – just a relentless, silent danger.

Six Kentucky coal-ash ponds rated a spot on the high-risk list (there are hundreds around the country) because they lack effective barriers to keep the toxins from seeping out, endangering people and other creatures living nearby and downstream.

Most also have no system for collecting the toxic liquid that could leach out or for monitoring nearby groundwater to determine if there is leakage. They're in Woodford, Clark, Lawrence, McCracken and Muhlenberg counties.

Power companies build the impoundments to hold whatever waste is left over, or trapped to keep it out of our air, when coal is burned to produce electricity.

The toxic metals, including arsenic, lead, selenium, boron, cadmium and cobalt, can be lethal. Arsenic is associated with many types of cancer, including those of the liver, kidney, lung and bladder. Lead is long since established as a potential hazard to the central nervous system, especially in young children.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Lexington Herald-Leader.