WASHINGTON --- Millions of tons of toxic coal ash is piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a situation the government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has done nothing about.
An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to one that ruptured last month in Tennessee. On Friday, a pond at a northeastern Alabama power plant spilled a different material.
Records indicate that states storing the most coal ash in ponds are Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama. The man-made lagoons hold a mixture of the noncombustible ingredients of coal and the ash trapped by equipment designed to reduce air pollution from the power plants.
The AP's analysis found that in 2005, 721 power plants generating at least 100 megawatts of electricity produced 95.8 million tons of coal ash. About 20 percent -- or nearly 20 million tons -- ended up in surface ponds. The remainder ends up in landfills, or is sold for use in concrete.
The Environmental Protection Agency eight years ago said it wanted to set a national standard for ponds or landfills used to dispose of wastes produced from burning coal. It has yet to act.
Regulations of the ponds vary by state. Most lack liners and have no monitors to ensure that contaminants don't seep into underground aquifers.
STATES STORING MOST ASH
An Associated Press analysis of Energy Department data found that 156 power plants in 32 states disposed of more than 19 million pounds of toxic coal ash in ponds in 2005, the latest year data was available. Here is a ranking of notable states:
|STATE||IN PONDS||WITH PONDS|
|6. N. Carolina||1,344,200||14|
|18. S. Carolina||301,050||8|
Source: U.S. Energy Department