In an article yesterday in The Charlotte Observer by Sara Coello called “Researchers detect coal ash beneath five NC lakes, including a Charlotte water source” a troubling study result indicates that coal ash has been invasive over time. It is the gift that keeps on giving long after its use and not in a good way.
Here are the first few paragraphs from the article, with a link to the full piece below:
“Scientists have detected coal ash in sediment at the bottom of five North Carolina lakes, evidence that it can reach bodies of water in previously unknown ways. Sediments beneath Mountain Island Lake, a drinking water source in and near Charlotte, was one spot where ash was detected. The study did not conclude that the waste is a risk to people or wildlife, but recommends more research.
Experts had thought that coal ash polluted ground and surface waters primarily by leaking from pits and ponds where power companies traditionally stashed it. Duke Energy is excavating 80 millions tons of coal ash across the state to reduce that threat, with 5.4 million tons once stored close to Mountain Island Lake already removed.
But researchers from Duke and Appalachian State universities found that airborne ash particles fell directly into lake waters over the past 40 to 70 years, especially before pollution controls were installed. And that ash particles that dropped to the ground also washed into the lakes, especially during extreme weather.
‘We thought that the majority of the coal ash is restricted to coal ash ponds and landfills,’ said Avner Vengosh, a professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. ‘Now we see it’s already in the open environment.’”
One of the many costs of burning coal that is usually underestimated is the long-term impact of trying to keep coal ash corralled long after the coal has been burned. The Dan River spill from a few years back was from coal ash from a closed down plant. This is why we must continue to move (and have moved away from) coal burning to create electricity. The tail on its maintenance is very long and costly.
This is also why I have long been critical of leaders from coal mining states. They have known this for years and instead of helping workers to transition to newer cleaner energy solutions, they clinged to the past. The last time I looked the sun shines, the water flows and the wind blows in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
US Solar jobs dwarf coal jobs today, but that is not news and was highly predictable several years ago. Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said about ten years ago on “60 Minutes” the future of energy in the US is with wind energy. Natural gas will buy time, but the wind blows across the plains and offshore.
Solar and wind energy are now on par with or better than fossil fuel production costs. But, when you factor in all of the other costs related to acquisition, transport, healthcare, maintenance and litigation, eg. the costs for renewables beat the pants off coal and even natural gas. And, when a wind mill offshore “spills” the only thing that happens is a splash.