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Coal Plant Scrubbers Increase Water Contamination in Local Waterways

Energy

Waterkeeper Alliance

On Sunday, Oct. 14, 70 people gathered on Lake Julian in front of the Asheville coal-fired power plant to protest increased levels of water pollution from the scrubbers at the facility and launch a multi-year campaign to move Asheville Beyond Coal. Photo by Jeff Rich

North Carolina has become the poster child for toxic wastewater pollution from coal fired power plants. In the last 30 days, a staggering array of new information released by environmental groups and a massive Duke University study shows why residents of the tarheel state may be the most at risk from coal combustion waste (CCW) ponds.

Last month, Waterkeeper Alliance and Earthjustice revised the NC coal ash fact sheet with new inspection data from the NC Dam Safety Engineering Division. Site inspections by state agency dam safety engineers at every coal fired power plants across state revealed 29 high hazard coal ash ponds whose failure could cause a loss of human life. The updated fact sheet revealed that there have been structural failures and/or breaches of coal ash pond dams at the Weatherspoon, Cliffside, Roxboro and Sutton coal fired power plants in the last 10 years. North Carolina now ranks number one in the nation for the state with the most dangerous collection of coal combustion waste ponds. The updated fact sheet also revealed that none of the states 37 CCW ponds have composite liners to prevent leachate from contaminating groundwater.

Last week, Waterkeeper AllianceCape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club and Western North Carolina Alliance filed a legal complaint with the Environmental Management Commission to require Duke Energy to clean up groundwater contaminated by old, unlined coal ash lagoons at 14 coal-fired power plants that have been leaking toxic substances for decades. That legal filing detailed how coal-fired power plants across North Carolina have systematically failed to clean up their toxic water pollution despite state law requiring them to “take immediate action to eliminate the source or sources of contamination.”

Yesterday, Duke University released an important study documenting high levels of water pollution in rivers across North Carolina from ten coal-fired power plants. The study results showed that the French Broad River and Mountain Island Lake have the highest levels of arsenic contamination of all the sites studied. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standard for arsenic is 10 µg/L. The Duke University study found 44.5 µg/L of arsenic at the Asheville coal-fired power plant discharge into the French Broad River and a whopping 92 µg/L of arsenic in the Riverbend discharge to Mountain Island Lake. This small lake provides drinking water to nearly one million people in the greater Charlotte region of Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.

The study also found that the Asheville plant had much higher levels of cadmium, selenium, antimony and thallium when compared to other coal ash plants in North Carolina. The levels of these pollutants ranged up to 17 times higher than human and aquatic life benchmarks considered safe. Asheville posted the highest levels of strontium reported in the study.

For the last two years, Western North Carolina Alliance’s two Riverkeepers Hartwell Carson and Donna Lisenby have researched water pollution impacts from the Asheville coal-fired power plant. Today they released new data illustrating the likely reason that the Duke University study found toxic water pollution discharged into the French Broad River among the most polluted in the state. The data shows a very significant increase in the total amount of water pollution discharged by the Asheville plant after scrubbers were added in 2005 and 2006.

Asheville Coal-Fired Power Plant U.S. EPA TRI History of Toxic Chemical Released:

Lisenby utilized data that Progress Energy reported to the EPA in the Toxics Release Inventory from 2002 through 2010. In 2003, Asheville released 2,492 pounds of toxic pollutants into the French Broad River. By 2010, the pollution amount had more than doubled to 5,285 pounds.

“These are very toxic pollutants that have no business in the French Broad River where people swim and recreate every day,” said French Broad Riverkeeper Carson. “The fact that the scrubbers have doubled the amount of water pollution is a great concern and illustrates why we need to move Asheville Beyond Coal,” he continued.

More than 80 percent of U.S coal-fired power plants with a flue gas desulfurization (FGD) system have installed a wet system that uses water to transport pollutants scrubbed from the air into ash ponds. These ash ponds then discharge a much higher concentration of polluted water to surface water. The net result is that scrubbed coal-fired power plants are much more toxic to water.

The Duke University study combined with the dramatic increase in water pollution revealed today by Western North Carolina Alliance’s Riverkeepers shows that scrubbed coal plants have become one of the most significant sources of increased water pollution in North Carolina. This has alarming implications for the rest of the country.

The Duke University study said that coal-fired power plants “…with FGD capabilities produced 58 percent of the electricity generated from coal in the U.S. in 2010.”  More scrubbers with wet FGD systems are proposed or coming on line at coal-fired power plants across the nation. Scrubbed plants tend to be larger coal burning facilities that use and pollute millions of gallons of water daily. If electric power generators continue installing these systems while the EPA fails to regulate coal ash waste as a hazardous waste, the water adjacent to these facilities will become more polluted.

Despite the danger, some senators recently introduced legislation that would prohibit the EPA from ever establishing federal protections against coal ash. Without them, this toxic pollution will continue to flow into our waters, and a problem that already threatens our health and environment will only get worse.

Please take a moment to tell your senators that coal ash is a toxic threat! Passing legislation that limits the EPA’s ability to clean up these sites and protects polluter profits over public health is not what Americans deserve. The coal industry is a powerful force in Washington. But our senators are elected to represent our best interests, not to bow to the demands of big polluters.

Tell your senator to get coal ash out of our drinking waters and protect our communities!

Since coal pollutes water at every step of its life cycle (mining, transportation, combustion and waste disposal), our people and waterways would be much better served if our nation converted to renewable energy. Coal is a deadly fossil fuel of the past. It is not a sustainable energy source for a healthy future. The atmospheric carbon that coal produces at every stage of its use threatens the stability of our climate across the entire planet. Help our country transition to clean energy by signing EcoWatch’s petition telling Congress to expedite renewable energy.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.

 

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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By Jake Johnson

Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.