Fruitland, NEW MEXICO -- Today, the Sierra Club released multiple reports on the some of the nation’s most dangerous coal ash sites, which includes the coal ash storage located at the Four Corners Power Plant near Fruitland, New Mexico. Coal ash, which is a toxic substance created when coal is burned, has been generated in the millions of tons at the Arizona Public Service (APS) owned Four Corners Generating Station. According to the report, APS has already stored 50 to 55 million tons of coal ash in unlined pits near the San Juan River and more recently are believed to be storing it in stockpiles. Improper storage of coal ash leaves water resources, the environment, and neighboring Navajo communities vulnerable as it has been known to seep into groundwater and blow on to their lands. Without federal regulation of coal ash, there is little known about how the plant's storage is being handled.
“The major concerns for Navajo tribal members are the continued health impacts and the financial burden of health care. Additionally, there are concerns on what would happen if the 100 million tons of toxic coal ash is released or floods the rivers nearby,” said Lori Goodman, Boardmember and Coordinator for Dine' Citizens Against Ruining our Environment. “Tribal members are worried about the looming financial burden of future clean up of coal ash and its impact on their health.”
To better understand how the coal ash is impacting health and the environment, testing has been done on the Chaco River both downstream and upstream stream from the coal ash storage sites. The most recent available testing downstream on the Chaco River, which runs 50 feet from where the bulk of the coal ash is stored, has shown dangerously high levels of toxic constituents found in coal ash. The Chaco River flows directly into the San Juan River basin, which is one of the Navajo’s main sources for drinking water. Without restrictions on how to dispose of coal ash, the Navajo people are at risk of breathing and drinking toxic contaminants that have been linked to cancer and other chronic illnesses that many Navajo people in the region suffer from today.
"Storage of coal ash on the Four Corners Power Plant site continues to be an irresponsible practice, imperiling scarce San Juan River water resources and human health,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Without stronger protections, Arizona Public Service will create more mountains of poorly managed coal ash, with little regard for the long term implications to public health and potential toxicity. Given the high probability of protections for coal ash and the existing significant liabilities, it is incumbent upon APS to seek off-site alternatives to storing Four Corners Power Plant coal waste and consider how their storage methods impact their neighbors.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing proposed protections to regulate coal ash and is expected to release a final rule in December. The rule will establish requirements on how coal ash will be stored and will decide whether to designate it as a hazardous waste or not. The Sierra Club and its partners have been very supportive of a strong rule that recognizes coal ash as a dangerous substance to ensure safer storage.
“There is plenty of data proving the toxicity of coal ash and recent events that show just how dangerous coal ash is to our water and environmental resources,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard, Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club. “A strong coal ash rule will require responsible clean up and plans for future storage of coal ash at APS's Four Corners Power Plant."