Groups Applaud EPA Action to Reduce Water Pollution From Power Plants: Strong rules could keep millions of pounds of toxic metals out of waterways

November 9, 2010

In response to action by leading U.S. environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking action to keep pollution from coal plant smokestacks out of America’s waterways.  EPA will issue these new rules, which would protect Americans from millions of pounds of heavy metals and other toxic pollutants, by July 23, 2012, with final rules due by January 31, 2014.

The Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, representing Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, put EPA on notice last year that the new clean water rules were decades overdue, leaving the American public exposed to heavy metals like arsenic, lead, chromium, and mercury.  Thanks to their work, EPA has agreed to a formal consent decree, locking in deadlines for these reforms.

EIP attorney Jennifer Peterson said: “These rules were supposed to have been written nearly 30 years ago—they are not new requirements.  Wastewater treatment is affordable, and our waterways are not a dumping ground for toxic waste from coal-fired power plants.  We appreciate EPA’s commitment to get these long overdue rules back on track.”

Toxic metals found in power plant wastewater discharges pose serious health and environmental risks even in very low doses. Arsenic is a known carcinogen that causes cancer of the skin, bladder and lungs. Mercury accumulates in fish and, when eaten by pregnant or nursing mothers, can seriously impact a child’s ability to write, read, and learn.  Selenium also gets concentrated up the food chain in fish and other aquatic life, impeding the growth of juvenile fish and causing skeletal deformities in offspring.

Power plants produce more toxic waste than any other industry in the U.S.  As companies install pollution controls to meet Clean Air Act requirements, toxic metals are transferred from the air and become concentrated in coal ash and wastewater.  Without strict federal rules on power plant discharges and coal ash disposal, the health of local communities and the environment remain at risk.

For the press release, click here.

For a copy of the Notice of Intent to Sue letter, click here.

For a copy of the Complaint, click here.

For a copy of the Consent Decree, click here.