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Study Shows Polluted Water At Texas Coal Plants

The study measured data from monitoring wells at 16 coal-fired power plants in Texas.
Dave Fehling
Houston Public Media
The study measured data from monitoring wells at 16 coal-fired power plants in Texas.

A new study shows that groundwater at 16 coal-fired power plants in Texas contains harmful levels of pollutants found in coal ash. Two of the 16 sites are in Northeast Texas: the dormant Monticello Steam Electric Station, which was retired in January 2018, and the J. Robert Welsh Power Plant, which is active. Both plants are in southern Titus County.

The report, published by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project, used data made public by a federal law known as the “Coal Ash Rule,” which was passed in 2015. Data were collected from water samples at monitoring wells located near coal ash dumps on the property of each power plant.

“We found contamination everywhere we looked, poisoning groundwater acquifers and recreational fishing spots across the state,” said Abel Russ, an attorney who helped write the study. “This confirms that dumping large volumes of toxic waste in poorly-lined pits is a terrible idea.”

Contaminants from coal ash, including arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, lead, lithium, and mercury, were found in the water samples.

Despite the high levels of pollutants, the report said that the results do not seem to indicate that any of the plants are in violation of federal or state regulations.

“State law currently exempts from regulation, all coal ash disposed on site at the power plant. But on site as defined in Texas is anywhere within 50 miles of the plant,” said Lisa Ebans, another attorney who contributed to the report.

The J. Robert Welsh Power Plant near Cason, in far southeastern Titus County, is owned and operated by Southwestern Electric Power Company, a subsidiary of American Electric Power. The site is near the Welsh Reservoir. The now-closed Monticello Steam Electric Station in Mount Pleasant was owned and operated by Luminant, which still owns the property. The site is near Lake Monticello.

Tammy Ridout, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power, told the Texas Tribune that “The Environmental Integrity Project report alleges impacts on groundwater based on initial data that is incomplete.”

“One or more samples showing a higher concentration of a substance, even above a standard, does not mean that local drinking water is unsafe or that there is any impact from the ash storage site,” Ridout said in an email. “AEP is conducting the additional groundwater monitoring and analysis that is required by the CCR rule to determine if there is an impact on groundwater at the site.”

Luminant did not respond to a request for comment from the Texas Tribune.

The full report can be found here.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.