By Rob Perks
As reported today in Grist, there are nearly four dozen coal ash waste disposal sites in the U.S. that are so hazardous that were they to fail, "they could kill untold numbers of nearby residents."
Coal ash sites -- which are less regulated than landfills containing household trash -- contain harmful levels of arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins, which can leach out slowly and contaminate drinking water sources, or as in the case of the 44 "high hazard" sites, flood nearby communities with a life-threatening wave of toxic sludge as happened last December at the Kingston power plant in Tennessee.
However, the location of these hazardous sites is classified by order of the Department of Homeland Security, ostensibly because officials are worried that terrorists might target the ash ponds. (Never mind the fact that the locations of other hazardous sites, such as nuclear plants, are publicly available.)
This isn't sitting well with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee has been leading the investigation into the health and safety risks posed by these unregulated coal waste dumps.
"If these sites are so hazardous and if the neighborhoods nearby could be harmed irreparably, then I believe it is essential to let people know," she said at a recent press conference. "Because if they know, they will press their local authorities who have responsibility for their safety to act now to make these sites safer and not sit back and wait."
Sen. Boxer believe that citizens have a right to know if they are in danger from coal ash waste in their neighborhood -- and we agree. That's why NRDC -- along with a coalition of other groups -- today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking the Obama administration to make public the list of "high hazard" coal ash disposal sites across the country.
Until that happens, I'll let you in on an open secret: We already know where the coal-fired power plants are. And we also already know where the ponds are.
If anybody wants access to this data just Google it. We may not know exactly how much ash is out there, but we do have 2006 data for all the plants across the country.
For a closer look, check out this one plant in Missouri:
I don't know about you but I'd hate to live in that neighborhood located literally next door to a massive coal ash pond!
See for yourself -- click here to tour all of the plants and their coal ash ponds in Google Maps, or click this file if you have Google Earth installed.