The EPA has finalized the Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines, in a move that the agency says will reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants into America’s waterways from steam electric power plants by 1.4 billion pounds annually, as well as reduce water withdrawal by 57 billion gallons per year.
Toxic pollutants include mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium, which can cause neurological damage in children, lead to cancer, and damage the circulatory system, kidneys, and liver, the EPA says.
There are about 1,080 steam electric power plants in the U.S. There are 134 plants that will have to make new investments to meet the requirements of this rule. The new requirements do not apply to plants that are oil-fired or smaller than 50 megawatts.
Each year, the agency says steam electric plants discharge:
- Nearly 65,000 pounds of lead and 3,000 pounds of mercury, leading to lowered IQs among children exposed to these pollutants via drinking water or by eating contaminated fish;
- 79,200 pounds of arsenic, increasing the risk of cancer and other health effects, including cardiovascular, pulmonary, and neurological disorders, in people exposed to these pollutants through drinking water and by eating contaminated fish;
- 225,000 pounds of toxic selenium, resulting in fish kills and other damage to fish, including organ damage, decreased growth rates, reproductive failure, and harm to people, including damage to the kidney, liver, and circulatory system;
- 30,400,000 pounds of nitrogen and 682,000 pounds of phosphorus, leading to over enrichment and water quality problems.
About 23,600 miles of rivers and streams are damaged by steam electric discharges, including arsenic, mercury, lead, boron, cadmium, selenium, chromium, nickel, thallium, vanadium, zinc, nitrogen, chlorides, bromides, iron, copper and aluminum. Steam electric power plant discharges occur upstream or close to 100 public drinking water intakes and in proximity to nearly 2,000 public wells across the nation.
Toxic metals do not break down in the environment and can contaminate sediment in waterways and impact aquatic life and wildlife, including large-scale die-offs of fish. Steam electric power plants account for about thirty percent of all toxic pollutants discharged into streams, rivers and lakes from permitted industrial facilities in the US.
Also this week the EPA updated air pollution standards with a rule requiring first-of-its-kind fenceline monitoring to control emissions from petroleum refineries.