Portland General Electric’s (“PGE”) Boardman coal plant in Morrow County, Oregon is named in a new national report issued by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club. According to the report, a study of 39 coal-ash dump sites contaminating drinking water or surface water, “Groundwater underneath a 40-acre ash disposal area, seven industrial waste water ponds and a 1,500 acre closed-loop reservoir at the Boardman Plant has been contaminated in excess of Oregon groundwater standards, EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and Secondary MCLS since 1981.”
A PGE spokesman has said that the utility will not move up the closing date for the Boardman plant from its planned 2020 shutdown. Cesia Kearns, regional representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, however, counters that “The best option for Boardman, and the least expensive, is early closure in 2015 or 2016.” The plant’s heavy mercury and nitrogen oxide emissions drove the push for an earlier closure. Now that groundwater contamination from Boardman also appears to be an environmental issue, calls for shuttering the plant soon are likely to increase substantially.
Health Effects of Toxic Groundwater Contamination
Contaminants identified in the study include arsenic and other heavy metals. Salem-News.com quoted Lyndsay Moseley, Sierra Club federal policy representative, as stating, “The health risks from exposure to this toxic waste are real and we cannot afford to ignore them any longer.” The report cites data showing that people living near unlined coal ash ponds can have a risk of cancer. over 2,000 times higher than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) considers acceptable. Toxins found in coal ash have also been linked to organ disease, respiratory illness, neurological damage, and developmental problems.
Toxins associated in the report with the Boardman plant included selenium and vanadium. The study noted that the “Oregon Numerical Groundwater Quality Reference Level (ONGQRL) for selenium has been exceeded and vanadium has reached 2.5 times state standards in shallow groundwater 1,500 feet downgradient of the ash landfill which has a liner made of hydrated coal ash.” The report also stated that no off-site monitoring or sampling for vanadium or selenium in a nearby reservoir is occurring. Groundwater near the Boardman plant is used primarily for irrigation and livestock, but nineteen nearby wells are apparently used as private water supply.
Selenium is known to cause health problems for livestock, wildlife, and humans when ingested in higher-than-required concentrations. Human health effects of vanadium exposure may include cardiac and vascular disease, inflammation of the stomach and intestines, damage to the nervous system, and bleeding of the liver and kidneys.
Oregon’s Own “Erin Brockovich” Situation?
As a Portland personal injury lawyer, I can’t help but compare Boardman to the town of Hinkley profiled in the film Erin Brockovich. Could contamination of private well water by toxic pollution from the Boardman plant pose a similar serious threat to the health of Oregonians? Our Oregon injury law office is investigating personal injury and wrongful death claims related to illness caused by exposure to groundwater toxins or atmospheric pollutants. If you or loved ones have experienced symptoms or illness that may be related to water contamination or air pollution, please contact us toll free at (800) 714-3204 for a no-cost, no-obligation attorney consultation.
Related Web Resources
Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice & Sierra Club, In Harm’s Way: Lack Of Federal Coal Ash Regulations Endangers Americans and Their Environment (2010).
Nigel Jaquiss, Sierra Club Report Highlights Coal Ash Dangers at Boardman Plant, Willamette Week, Aug. 26, 2010.
salem-news.com, Toxic Coal Ash Report: Oregon’s Boardman Plant Listed as a Contamination Site, Aug. 26, 2010.