Improper Waste Disposal is a Serious Environmental Threat
The Washington state dump site uses underground storage tanks to hold all this radioactive sludge. These tanks, however, were not built for the long-run. Each one has a maximum lifespan of about 20 years, though many have been holding toxic waste since the 1940s. Cleanup for leaks from these tanks will take an estimated 40 years, at a cost of over $1 billion.
More concerning beyond the staggering statistics, what does this mean for us? And what's being done?
Despite eco-friendly initiatives aimed at protecting our environment, and a general public that tends to be pretty savvy on "living green", we are still experiencing dangerous amounts of exposure to toxic pollutants from facilities such as this one that are unable to handle large amounts of harmful energy waste.
The environmental damages are a no-brainer. Beyond losing precious land to dumpsites, surrounding areas are experiencing an onslaught of chemical waste that will affect the growth of local wildlife. But for nearby residents, tainted drinking water and polluted air can lead to damages including lung or skin cancer, asthma, damage to internal organs like the intestines and the liver, brain damage and, in cases of severe or direct contact, even death.
Lawmakers and federal organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have failed to take measures that implement adequate safety standards. Last April, Earthjustice, an organization providing pro bono legal services to environmental groups, sued the EPA for failing to review and revise its rules on the disposal of coal ash, the harmful byproduct of coal found in landfills and ponds across the country, including Maryland. Despite a mandatory duty to review these rules every three years, the agency has failed to do so since 2000.
A number of lawsuits (including some filed by Murphy, Falcon & Murphy) have successfully challenged companies who elect not to provide safe measures of disposal. Last month, we also filed suit against Constellation Energy for improper disposal of coal ash that has allegedly destroyed the environmental well-being of nearby businesses, including a golf course.
Filing a lawsuit attempts to punish the wrongdoers. In many instances, however, it cannot erase the dangerous levels of coal ash, radioactive waste and other toxic pollutants that have already contaminated communities and businesses, and which these communities will be forced to deal with continually into the future.. That type of systemic change must start at the top-with the federal organizations and policymakers who can provide the research and necessary laws to shape the way we deal with toxic waste disposal.
Mr. Kirby is an attorney at Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, where he has taken a leading role in examining legal remedies and holding others accountable for significant environmental pollution in our communities.
Maryland: Coal Ash Disposal in Ponds and Landfills
Coal Ash-Contaminated Sites
Coal Combustion Residuals – Proposed Rule
Environmental Protection Agency
As EPA delays New Coal Ash Rules, Residents Turn to the Courts for Relief
The Center for Public Integrity
Disposal: Coal Ash