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Report: Georgia coal plants are poisoning water

Arsenic, cobalt are among the contaminants, researchers said.
Credit: Wade, Jakie

Power plants in Georgia are poisoning groundwater in spots all over the state, according to an environmental report critical of Georgia Power. The utility says its cleanup of those sites is moving faster than required by federal law.

The report said the poison is coming from stuff that is the byproduct of coal that fuels power plants from Savannah to northwest Georgia.

Georgia Power produces tons of coal ash at its coal-fired plants. Coal ash is the goopy stuff that’s left after coal is burned to produce electricity. Georgia Power typically stores this waste product in giant ponds adjacent to its plants. But that has poisoned adjacent groundwater, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice.

"The list of things that make up coal ash is an alphabet soup of really toxic stuff that has been linked to cancer and all sorts of health problems," said Jennette Gayer of Environment Georgia.

The report describes as “severe” the contamination of groundwater near seven coal-fired Georgia Power plants, from a combination of potentially harmful chemicals.

At Plant Bowen near Euharlee, boron at up to ten times the safe level.

At Plant Harlee Branch in Milledgeville – which is now closed – up to fifty times the safe level of cobalt

At Plant Hammond near Rome, arsenic up to forty times the federal standard

At Plant Scherer in Juliette – cobalt at twenty times the standard

And more contamination at power plants near Carrollton, Newnan and Savannah.

Georgia Power says it has 29 coal ash ponds – and is excavating 19 of them. The other “10 (are) being closed in place using advanced engineering methods and closure technologies,” Georgia Power said in a statement. “... with our top priority being to protect water quality every step of the way… complying with all state and federal requirements.”

Gayer and other environmentalists do give Georgia Power some credit for being proactive in cleaning up and sealing off many of its coal ash dumps. "The bottom line is all of the coal ash in the state needs to be stored in a dry- lined, capped facility away from our rivers," Gayer said.