Activists Raise Awareness of Toxic Coal Pollution in Our Waterways

"Hazmat" swimsuit contest raises awareness of coal's water pollution.
© Sierra Club

Who knew a beauty contest could be so gross? Activists in St. Louis staged a Hazmat Swimsuit Contest last week to highlight the immense amount of toxic pollution that local coal plants dump into the area's waterways.

"Rather than wear swimsuits, the competitors all wore hazmat suits to illustrate that St. Louis area water is too toxic to swim in, let alone drink!" said St. Louis Beyond Coal Organizer Sara Edgar. "All four of the St. Louis area coal plants competed for the title by listing off why that coal plant is the biggest contributor to toxic water in our community."

Did you know that, for decades, power plants have been allowed to dump toxic pollution into our nation's waterways, with almost no limits? Coal plants are now by far the largest source of toxic water pollution in the country.

The St. Louis "beauty" contest, along with numerous other events across the country, coincided with the release of a new report about an extremely serious problem that has received shockingly little attention: water pollution from coal-fired power plants. "Closing the Floodgates" documents the problem and highlights the urgent need to clean it up.

"You wouldn't be able to have an actual swimsuit competition here," said Sara of their event, which was held on the city's riverfront. That's because of the arsenic, lead, boron, and selenium that Ameren Corporation's coal plants have put into the Mississippi, Missouri, and Meramec rivers.

"We need to fight for clean water so that this is the first and last toxic swimsuit competition in the state of Missouri," said the "winner" of the Hazmat Swimsuit Contest.

Activists used the report's release to raise the visibility of coal water pollution around the country. In North Carolina, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt joined Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, along with representatives from Earthjustice and Clean Water Action, for a press conference in Charlotte that emphasized Duke Energy's poor record on coal water pollution.

In Alabama, local activists questioned the Tennessee Valley Authority about the millions of pounds of pollution the coal industry has been allowed to discharge into lakes and rivers that supply drinking water to families. They cited one example of coal ash pollution in Alabama:

The report issued today says engineers have found substantial leaks at…TVA ash ponds, but that TVA continues to use them. At TVA's Colbert Fossil Plant in northern Alabama, "bright orange, toxic-filled leaks from the ash ponds are flowing into a tributary of the Tennessee River," the report says. A lawsuit was filed against the plant in April.

In Montana, residents worked to raise awareness of coal pollution in the Yellowstone River, downstream from the Corette coal plant. Testing has shown high arsenic levels there.

Frankly, all of the report's findings deserve to be shouted from the mountaintops. Look at what the coal industry is getting away with:

    -- Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into our rivers, lakes, streams, and bays, nearly 70 percent have no limit on the amount of toxic metals commonly found in these discharges (arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium).

    -- Of those 274 coal plants, more than one-third are not required to monitor or report discharges of these toxic metals to government agencies or to the public.

    -- Of the coal plants surveyed, 71 are discharging toxic pollution into rivers, lakes, streams, and bays that already have been declared impaired because of poor water quality.

    -- Nearly half of the coal plants surveyed are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit.

The coal industry has gotten away with polluting our water for far too long. Our families deserve clean water to drink, play in, fish from, and enjoy.

Tell the Environmental Protection Agency that we need the strongest possible safeguards against toxic wastewater.

Activists Raise Awareness of Toxic Coal Pollution in Our Waterways
New report shows shocking amounts of coal pollution in U.S. waterways.

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