Sierra Club Sounds Alarm Over Coal-Ash Pond Near Herrington Lake

May 16, 2014

A coal-ash pond is leaking near the banks of Herrington Lake, a popular Kentucky recreation spot.

A Sierra Club report alleges this coal ash pond at the E.W. Brown Generating Station is contaminating surface and groundwater.
A Sierra Club report alleges this coal ash pond at the E.W. Brown Generating Station is contaminating surface and groundwater.
Credit Alex DeSha, Sierra Club

The leak is causing a threat to public health, according to a new national report from the Sierra Club.

The 126-acre, unlined pond - located just a quarter of a mile from homes - has been placed on the Sierra Club's top 10 most high-risk sites in the nation.

The site is no longer in use, but the report claims 26 million tons of hazardous waste remain in the soil-covered impoundment.

Nachy Kanfer, deputy director of the Sierra Club's Central Region, says the site is contaminating surface and groundwater, according to records obtained from the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

"So you can imagine our surprise when we found documents from DEP discussing the highly contaminated, orange-colored water - that's a direct quote - discharging from a drain pipe out of the storage facility directly into Herrington Lake," he says.

Coal ash is the toxic byproduct left over when coal is burned to generate electricity.

The E.W. Brown Generating Station, operated by Kentucky Utilities, burns an average of 1.5 million tons of coal annually.

The Sierra Club report found that tests on water close to the site showed arsenic levels at more than 14 times the amount determined safe for Kentucky drinking water.

And, two springs tested contained boron levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Health Advisory for Children.

Those are red flags for Deborah Payne, health coordinator for Kentucky Environmental Foundation the Kentucky Environmental Foundaton.

"Children are the most vulnerable to these metals exposures as their organs, especially the brain, are still developing," she asserts.

Kentucky Utilities issued a statement saying it is committed to strict compliance with environmental laws and claims the situation does not impact public drinking water sources or Lake Herrington.

Environmental groups are frustrated because there are no federal standards for the storage and disposal of coal ash, leaving oversight to what the report calls an ineffective jumble of state-based regulations.

Kanfer claims that in Kentucky, the state has had knowledge of contamination from the Brown power plant for years but has done little to address the problem.

"It's an outrage and it has to stop," he says.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said in a statement that it is aware of the presence of elevated levels of pollutants and is addressing the situation.

The Sierra Club rates eight of Kentucky's 48 coal-ash ponds as high hazard.