Report: Health benefits of controlling power plant wastewater pollution could top $300M

Caption: AEP's Mountaineer coal power plant

A report published Wednesday by a collective of health and environmental conservation organizations asserts that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has underestimated the monetary health benefits of controlling metal pollutants like arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury in the nation’s water sources.
Written by Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and Clean Water Action, the report titled “Selling Our Health Down the River” contends the monetary health benefits of controlling metal pollutants in the country’s waters would not total $14 - $20 million as previously estimated by the EPA, but would actually top $300 million. It further argues “power plant wastewater has contributed to over 3,000 miles of contaminated rivers, fish too polluted to eat in 185 bodies of water, and the degradation of 399 water bodies that are used as public drinking water sources."

The report anticipates the September release of the EPA’s updated “Effluent Limitations Guidelines for the Steam Electric Industry.” Current wastewater pollution guidelines have not been updated since 1982 and do not currently regulate the discharge of heavy metals. As proposed, the updated rule would present a number of options to mitigate the pollution of the nation’s water resources by the disposal of power plant waste water streams. In Wednesday’s report, the authors urge the EPA to adopt the strongest proposed protections against power plant pollutants, which would eliminate nearly all heavy metal water pollution from the industry.
"EPA has a historic opportunity to update Clean Water Act protections and to make sure our nation's drinking water systems and their consumers aren't bearing the burden and footing the bill to clean up coal plant water pollution," said Clean Water Action Water Programs Director Jennifer Peters, as reported on the Sierra Club’s website. "EPA must put the prevention of contamination and public health protection before the interests of an industry that has had a free pass to poison our nation's waters for decades."

Not everyone is certain the EPA’s strongest proposed protections are advisable, however. Some power producers feel the EPA has not adequately demonstrated the feasibility of implementing such broad measures across the industry. “In revising these regulations, the EPA is required to consider the cost of treatment technology with both the ability of that technology to effectively remove pollutants and the environmental benefits of pollutant reduction,” said Alan Wood, director of water and ecological resource services for American Electric Power. “We believe the EPA must find the right balance between cost, technical feasibility, and benefits. Some of the technology choices in the most stringent options the EPA is considering have not been adequately proven to be feasible.”

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