Friday, September 13, 2013

Time to Update Water Quality Standards

Opinion by Karen Melton
Published in Roxborough Review, Sept. 4. 

Standards governing water pollution from coal-fired power plants have not been updated in 30 years.  Pennsylvania has 28 active coal power plants and only 8 have permits that limit dumping of any toxic metal, while only 4 plants have permits that limit selenium, mercury, and lead.

According to the EPA, more than half of all toxic water pollution in the country comes from coal-fired power plants, making coal plants the number one source of toxic water pollution in the U.S. More than 23,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams are being damaged by steam electric plant discharges, which include arsenic, mercury, lead, boron, cadmium, selenium, bromides and more.  Each year nearly 65,000 pounds of lead, 3,000 pounds of mercury, and 80,000 pounds of arsenic are discharged into surface waters.

The health effects of many of these pollutants are well known, ranging from increasing risk of certain cancers as a result of exposure to arsenic, and neurological and developmental damage in children exposed to lead.  Once in the environment, these toxics can remain for many years.

In June the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published new proposed national standards on discharging toxic metals into waterways. The updated standards would also require coal power plants to monitor and report the amount of pollution being dumped.

The period for public comment on the new standard ends September 20th.  A number of local organizations such as the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network have been working to inform the public about the proposed standards and the opportunity for citizens to provide comments to the EPA.

You can read more by logging onto and you can submit comments in support of clean water standards by sending an email to, Attention Docket ID EPA–HQ–OW–2009–0819 or by logging onto and referencing the docket ID.

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