Kentucky and other states do a poor job of regulating coal ash in order to protect water supplies, two environmental groups said in a study released Wednesday.
The report said Kentucky falls short on a number of fronts, such as not requiring liners under coal-ash ponds, groundwater monitoring or emergency plans covering failures of dams at ash-storage facilities.
Coal ash is the substance left over from coal combustion. Kentucky is a top producer of ash because it has numerous coal-fired power plants.
Coal ash contains pollutants such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium, which leach out of storage facilities and into streams and water supplies, threatening human health and wildlife, said the report from Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
"The level of threat to communities from coal ash in Kentucky, cited in this report, is both shocking and shameful, and the health of people all over Kentucky may be suffering unnecessarily as a result of these toxic chemical exposures," Deborah Payne, energy and health coordinator for the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, said in a news release.
R. Bruce Scott, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, said monitoring has shown some elevated levels of contaminants near ash ponds, on the same property as the ponds.
However, the department has not seen cases of chemicals from ash ponds contaminating public water supplies or private wells, Scott said.
There is no evidence that pollutants from ash ponds are hurting the health of Kentuckians, Scott said.
The report comes against the backdrop of a debate in Congress over how to regulate coal ash.
Many environmental groups want the federal government to classify the ash as hazardous waste and put heightened federal controls in place.
However, states favor an approach that would develop better standards on regulating coal ash without classifying it as hazardous, Scott said.
That approach would not jeopardize efforts to put coal ash to beneficial uses, such as using it to make construction materials, Scott said.
The debate has particular significance in Kentucky not just because the state produces a lot of coal ash, but because the Center for Applied Energy Research at the University of Kentucky is a leading center for studying beneficial uses of coal ash.