An Associated Press analysis of federal environmental data shows chemicals and waste from the coal industry have tainted hundreds of waterways and groundwater supplies for decades, spoiling private wells, shutting down fishing and rendering streams virtually lifeless.
Because the contaminants are released gradually and in some cases not tracked or regulated, they attract much less attention than a large spill like the one in West Virginia that happened on January 9th. The U.S. EPA says discharges from coal-fired power plants are responsible for nearly 60 percent of all toxic pollution entering the nation's waters. The spill has raised concern among Ohio environmentalists about this state's ability to protect waterways if one happens here. Matt Trokan with the Sierra Club says 14 state permits regulating mining runoff have lapsed.
The club's Bob Shields says there are lessons to be learned from the spill.
The spill into the Elk River forced the city of Cincinnati to temporarily shut down Ohio River intake valves on January 14th out of concern about drinking water contamination. The Elk feeds into the Ohio. Cincinnati water officials say samples show chemical levels in the Ohio are well below what is considered hazardous. The company responsible for the West Virginia spill says it will bring in sturdier containment structures after incurring safety violations at a second chemical storage facility. Inspectors ordered Freedom Industries to move all its chemicals to a second facility in Nitro after the spill in Charleston. Inspectors have found five safety violations at the second facility. Like the Charleston facility, the last-resort containment wall at the Nitro site had holes in it. Freedom will store the Nitro facility's chemicals in double-walled tanks by January 23rd.