Faced with new evidence that utilities across the country are dumping toxic sludge into waterways, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving to impose new restrictions on the level of contaminants power plants can discharge.
Plants in Florida, Pennsylvania and several other states have flushed wastewater with levels of selenium and other toxins that far exceed the EPA's freshwater and saltwater standards aimed at protecting aquatic life, according to data the agency has collected over the past few years. While selenium can be beneficial in tiny amounts, elevated levels damage not only fish but also birds and people who consume contaminated fish.
Ironically, the reason more selenium and metals such as arsenic are now entering U.S. waterways is because the federal government has pressed utilities to install pollution-control "scrubbing" technology that captures contaminants headed for smokestacks and stores them as coal ash or sludge. The EPA estimates that these two coal combustion residues -- which are often kept in outdoor pools or flushed into nearby rivers and streams -- amount to roughly 130,000 tons per year and will climb to an estimated 175,000 tons by 2015.
EPA to Control Water Pollution from Air Pollution Controls: