Three environmental groups released a new study today identifying 39 coal-ash storage sites in 21 states that are contaminating drinking water or surface water with arsenic and other heavy metals.
Indeed, Portland General Electric's Boardman coal-fired power plant in eastern Oregon is one of them.
Here's some of what the report says about Boardman:
"Groundwater contamination underneath a 40-acre CCW disposal area, seven wastewater ponds, and a 1,500-acre Reservoir at the Boardman Plant has been contaminated in excess of Oregon groundwater standards, EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels and Secondary MCLS since 1981. ... A nearby farming operation has been using large volumes of water from the Carty reservoir since 2001, despite the Boardman Plant’s disposal of bottom ash drain water and other liquid industrial wastes into this reservoir."
Steve Corson, spokesman for PGE, stressed that the storage site at Boardman is a dry storage site in a place where the average precipitation is 8 inches a year.
"It's not one of the infamous ponds that cause problems elsewhere in the country," he said.
Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal for power. And three groups – Environmental Integrity Project, Environmental Justice and Sierra Club – say states aren't monitoring coal-ash disposal sites closely enough for water pollution. They want the Environmental Protection Agency to step in with stronger regulations.
At 35 coal-ash storage sites in their study, they say, groundwater monitoring wells reveal concentrations of heavy metals that exceed federal standards for drinking water.
The EPA is developing a plan to regulate coal ash disposal and is holding a series of meetings around the country next week.
Corson said 93 percent of the coal ash produced at Boardman is sold as an additive in concrete. His company tests the monitoring wells around the storage site for the rest of the coal ash and reports to state agencies on its findings. The facility has permits from Oregon's Energy Facilities Siting Council and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
"Thus far, to the best of my knowledge, we've always been well within our permitted levels and have not detected an impact on groundwater," he said. "But my impression of the environmental groups' concern is that it's about substances that are not regulated yet."
Stay tuned for more from the environmental groups' report "In Harm's Way" and PGE's response.