"Clean Coal Technology"

This from today's Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Coal-plant gear keeps air clean but fouls water


    MASONTOWN, Pa. -- For years, residents here complained about the yellow smoke pouring from the tall chimneys of the nearby coalfired power plant, which left a film on their cars and pebbles of coal waste in their yards. Five states sued the plant's owner, Allegheny Energy, claiming the air pollution was causing respiratory diseases and acid rain.
    So three years ago, Allegheny Energy decided to install wet scrubbers to clean the plant's air emissions. The technology would spray water and chemicals through the plant's chimneys, trapping more than 150,000 tons of pollutants each year before they escaped into the sky.
    But the cleaner air has come at a cost. Each day since the equipment was switched on in June, the company has
dumped tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater containing chemicals from the scrubbing process into the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to 350,000 people and flows into Pittsburgh, 40 miles to the north.
    "It's like they decided to spare us having to breathe in these poisons, but now we have to drink them instead," said Philip Coleman, who lives about 15 miles from the plant and has asked a state judge to toughen the facility's pollution regulations. "We can't escape."
    Even as a growing number of coal-burning power plants around the nation have moved to reduce their air emissions, many of them
are creating another problem: water pollution. Power plants are the nation's biggest producer of toxic waste, surpassing industries such as plastic and paint manufacturing and chemical plants, according to a New York Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data.
    Much power-plant waste once went into the sky, but because of toughened air pollution laws, it now often goes into lakes and rivers or into landfills that have leaked into nearby groundwater, say regulators and environmentalists.
    Officials at the Hatfield's Ferry plant in southeast Pennsylvania say it does not pose any health or environmental risks because they have installed equipment to limit the toxins the facility releases into the Monongahela River and elsewhere.

    But as the number of scrubbers around the nation increases, environmentalists have become worried. The Environmental Protection Agency projects that by next year, roughly 50 percent of coal-generated electricity in the United States will come from plants that use scrubbers or similar technologies, creating vast new sources of wastewater.
In Arkansas, EPA data show that the state's three active coal-fired plants, owned by Entergy and SWEPCO, have been found in violation of federal water laws several times since July 2006. But only informal, nonpunitive regulatory actions have been taken against the companies, which predominantly found themselves in violation of reporting and monitoring requirements.

    Regulators found Entergy's Independence plant in violation 18 times during that period, including 11 times for releasing into the White River higher-than-allowed amounts of solids and fecal coliform as well as releases that sucked too much oxygen from the water. The company's White Bluff plant was found in violation of reporting rules a dozen times.
    Tina Burt, a senior environmental analyst with Entergy, said the Independence violations were due to equipment failures, which are being addressed. Reporting and monitoring issues are also being worked on, she added.
    SWEPCO's Flint Creek facility has been twice cited for releasing excess oil and grease into nearby waters. Regulators said it failed four times to meet reporting and monitoring rules.

    "We do have some minor issues from time to time in reporting," SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main said. "They get resolved quickly."
    None of Arkansas' plants use scrubbers. SWEPCO has plans to use them in the John W. Turk plant it is building in Hempstead County and Main said it is studying whether to add them -- at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars -- to its Flint Creek operation. Entergy is hoping to install them at White Bluff; it must either add some form of scrubbers or close the plant by fall 2013.

    Coal-fired plants generally use either wet or dry scrubbers to trap pollutants such as sulfur dioxide before they escape into the atmosphere. The dry process captures, treats and dries the pollutants, which are collected in a "baghouse." Wet scrubbers do similar work, but the resulting mix of materials is oxidized in a reaction tank and turned into a commercial form of gypsum.
    Both systems release waste from the scrubbing process into area waters. But Mark Bowles, an Entergy environmental support manager, said the dry process releases less wastewater.
    "That was one of the reasons the dry scrubber was selected," he said, "because it had a much better environmental footprint."
    An interactive database of power-plant violations around the nation is available at www. nytimes.com/coalplants.
The database includes the Domtar A.W. Corp. paper mill in Ashdown, which maintains a coal plant. EPA data shows that several of that company's 28 violations since July 2006
were for excess levels of chemicals used in paper- or pulp-making processes.
No federal regulations specifically govern the disposal of power-plant discharges into waterways or landfills. Some regulators have used laws like the Clean Water Act to combat such pollution. But those laws can prove inadequate, say regulators, because they do not mandate limits on the most dangerous chemicals in power-plant waste, such as arsenic and lead.
    For instance, only one in 43 power plants and other electric utilities across the nation must limit how much barium they dump into nearby waterways, according to a Times analysis of EPA records. Barium, which is commonly found in power-plant waste and scrubber wastewater, has been linked to problems in the heart and other organs.
    Even when power-plant emissions are regulated by the Clean Water Act, plants have often violated that law without paying fines or facing other
penalties. Ninety percent of 313 coal-fired power plants that have violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 were not fined or otherwise sanctioned by federal or state regulators, according to a Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency records.
    Hatfield's Ferry has violated the Clean Water Act 33 times since 2006. For those violations, the company paid less than $26,000.
    "We know that coal waste is so dangerous that we don't want it in the air, and that's why we've told power plants they have to install scrubbers," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. "So why are they dumping the same waste into people's water?"
    Though the EPA promised earlier this decade to consider new regulations on powerplant waste -- and reiterated that pledge after a Tennessee dam break sent 1.1 billion gallons of coal waste into farms and homes last year -- federal regulators have yet to issue any major new rules.
    One reason is that some state governments have long fought new federal regula
tions, often at the behest of energy executives, say environmentalists and regulators.
    Last year, when Hatfield's Ferry asked the state for permission to dump scrubber wastewater into the Monongahela, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection approved the request with proposed limits on some chemicals.
    But state officials placed no limits on water discharges of arsenic, aluminum, boron, chromium, manganese, nickel or other chemicals that have been linked to health risks -- all of which have been detected in the plant's wastewater samples, according to state documents.
    Records show, and company officials concede, that Hatfield's Ferry is already dumping scrubber wastewater into the Monongahela that would violate the state's few proposed pollution rules. Officials at Hatfield's Ferry say there is no reason for residents to be concerned. They say that lawsuits against the plant are without merit and that they have installed a $25 million water-treatment plant that removes many of the toxic particles and solids from scrub
ber wastewater. The solids are put into a 106-acre landfill that contains a synthetic liner to prevent leaks.
    Though synthetic liners are generally considered effective at preventing leaks, environmentalists note that the Hatfield's Ferry landfill is less than a mile uphill from the river, and that over time, other types of liners have proved less reliable than initially hoped.
    In interviews, EPA officials said that toughening pollution rules for power plants was among their top priorities. Last month, the agency announced it was moving forward on new rules regulating greenhousegas emissions from hundreds of power plants and other large industrial facilities. Lisa P. Jackson, who was confirmed to head the agency in January, has said she will determine by the end of the year whether certain power-plant byproducts should be treated as hazardous waste, which would subject them to tougher regulations.
Information for this article was provided by Charles Duhigg of The New York Times and by Matthew S.L. Cate of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


Wire writers and the democrat staff...keep up the good work and continue discovering such health hazards. As we all know half of the diseases are not only air borne but most of them are water borne but these manufaturers just wont understand they just want to hide the wrong they are doing..so keep digging in the grave for such a wrong.

hi, John

Wire writers and the democrat staff...keep up the good work and continue discovering such health hazards. As we all know half of the diseases are not only air borne but most of them are water borne but these manufaturers just wont understand they just want to hide the wrong they are doing..so keep digging in the grave for such a wrong.



Leave a comment


Covering the game changing discussions that are taking place in the realm of sustainability. From the impact of the City of Fayetteville's decision to switch its fleet to biodiesel to Paul Stamet's research in the Pacific Northwest on how mycelia...

Recent Entries

  • Housing + Transportation Costs

    An interesting article about how rising fuel costs are impacting Americans.Begin forwarded message: The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic)3/10/11 1:27 PMHow Gas Prices Are Eroding the American Dream:...

  • Lasers & Solar

    Geoff Alexander from the City's IT Division passes along this interesting nugget about the use of lasers to make solar more efficient....

  • Arkansas Leader in LEED

    Arkansas is #8 per capita in LEED Buildings....

  • Libya & Clean Energy?

    Adam Werbach, keynote speaker at last year's Sustainable Arkansas forum in Rogers and sustainability officer for Saatchi & Saatchi espouses on the potential for clean...

  • L.A Gets Serious About Biking

    It may have taken the Mayor almost getting smashed by a taxi cab, but now LA is putting their money behind biking infrastructure. Ten percent...