An October, 2002 the EPA-funded study on the health risks from Coal Ash dumps, which showed an increased cancer risk as well as the risk of non-cancer illnesses, was never released to the public.

The predicted cancer risk increase–up to 1 in 50 more cases per site–was due to arsenic leaching into the water table from unlined waste (coal ash) ponds. Non cancer health problems, including liver and kidney damage, were also shown to be at increased risk for residents living within a few miles of the waste ponds. Additionally, neurological damage from lead leaching was also a major risk finding.

The EPA did release an edited version of the study in August of 2007, but, according to environmental groups, it omitted the risks to marine animals. Environmentalist fear that the risk may be even greater than the study predicts, due to the fact that the EPA based its findings on a smaller survey data set (of total coal ash ponds)–40% less than the Industry reported in the subsequent year. Currently, there are at least 427 documented, coal ash waste ponds in the US.

The adverse effects from heavy metals and other toxic chemcals leaching into ground water can last for more than a century. This is due to the fact that peak pollution levels don’t occur until long after the ash is actually dumped in place; poisonous elements, and especially heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and boron, take a long time to leach out from the ash and sink to the level of the water table. Once there, more time transpires before enough of the toxin is absorbed by animals and people through water exposure.

Additional predicted risks from the study: more than 2000 times the safety level of boron concentration; selenium levels ten times higher than what is gauged to be safe for aquatic species.

The full, long-term effects on aquatic ecosystems from higher concentrations of these metals is not known, but previous studies have shown increased rates of tumorogenesis in tissue samples and disruption of reproductive cycles for many fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and smaller invertebrates.

Information on this EPA study, and its belated publication, was gleaned from at:

Image: Google Earth view of coal ash ponds near Kings Mountain in Western N. Carolina