Coal Ash Spill in Lake Michigan Occurs Within Days of New EPA Data on Hazardous Coal Ash Ponds

Milwaukee Lake Michigan mapGoogle Maps/Screen capture

A collapse next to a power plant near Milwaukee earlier this week sent coal ash into Lake Michigan. Researchers concluded yesterday that the spill probably doesn't pose a significant environmental risk, but the ash contained heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury, and about 2,500 cubic yards of ash (200 dump trucks' worth) are thought to have spilled into the water, AP reports, after the section of cliff "about the size of a football field" gave out.

The full lab analysis will take several days to complete, and while there's some concern that the spill could smother fish habitat, it likely wouldn't spread beyond the immediately-effected area, according to Val Klump, director of the Great Lakes WATER Institute in Milwaukee.

The Journal Sentinel described Monday's scene:

When the section of bluff collapsed and slid from a terraced area at the top of a hill down to the lake, Oak Creek Acting Fire Chief Tom Rosandich said, it left behind a debris field that stretched 120 yards long and 50 to 80 yards wide at the bottom.

Aerial images show a trailer and storage units holding construction equipment tumbled like Tonka toy trucks and were swept along with the falling bluff in a river of dirt that ended in the water.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, had this to say following the spill:

Monday's collapse on Lake Michigan is particularly troublesome because We Energies has known for years that its management of coal ash at this facility was a threat to human health. Indeed, they have been providing bottled water to neighbors whose wells have been contaminated.

The Journal Sentinel has some great photos of Monday's spill.

Hazard Coal Ash Ponds On the Rise
The spill came just after the EPA released its latest data on coal ash ponds, which according to Earthjustice reveals a threefold increase in the number of coal ash ponds given a "significant" hazard rating. While the coal ash that spilled into Lake Michigan was not stored in a pond, and had actually been there since the 1950s, they are both examples that advocates say illustrate the need for stricter regulation of coal ash.

The EPA's ratings are based on criteria from the National Inventory of Dams (NID) that categorizes ponds by the damage that would occur if the pond were to collapse. More from Earthjustice:

This month, the EPA recently released a new set of data that reveals 181 “significant” hazard dams in 18 states. This is more than three times the 60 significant-hazard ponds listed in the original database released in 2009. In addition to the increase in the number of significant hazard-rated ponds, eight of the previously unrated coal ash ponds were found to be high hazard ponds in information released by the EPA earlier this year. Because of the switch in ratings after the EPA inspections, the total number of high hazard ponds has stayed roughly the same at a total of 47 ponds nationwide.

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