A new report from the Clean Water Fund says there are concerns about coal ash in Florida, mainly the failure of state and federal requirements to establish protective standards.
37% of Florida’s reported coal ash landfills are unlined, 80% lack a leachate collection system, and even more are unmonitored and uncovered. As the federal and state governments do not require even the most elementary protective standards, utilities remain in full compliance without a single facility known to have all of the possible protections in place.
Seven plants have already contaminated Florida's ground and surface water with arsenic, mercury, chromium, sulfates, and other toxic chemicals from coal ash disposal sites.
Coal ash was rarely discussed as an environmental concern until a December 2008 accident at the Kingston Fossil Plant that sent 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal sludge into a small community in eastern Tennessee. It was the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the U.S. — more than 200 million gallons have yet to be removed.
But that's not the only accident. Clean Water Fund reports that throughout the past decade, millions of gallons of toxic coal slurry have been released to surface and drinking water sources in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Alabama.
Tampa Electric Company's Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach produced more than a billion pounds of coal ash in 2010 (1,050,000,000), the third highest of any plant in the state. In terms of toxic wastes generated per coal power plants, it generated more than 9 million pounds, the fourth highest in Florida.
Lisa Evans, senior legislative council at the environmental group EarthJustice, told WMNF's Sean Kinane that her organization found, "many contaminants" at the Big Bend site, "which were much above health standards and environmental standards that were found in the ground water flowing out to the intertidal canals and onto adjacent properties."
"Florida's soil is like a sponge and our water table is high. These conditions mean that toxic contamination from coal ash has polluted our drinking water and continues to threaten our water resources," said Angelique Giraud, Clean Water Fund's energy coordinator.
The report calls for the EPA to establish federal standards to classify coal as a hazardous waste rather than just a solid waste. It also calls on the state's department of environmental protection to be a leader on coal ash management by establishing, "consistent, protective standards with meaningful enforcement."