In Bokoshe, Oklahoma, residents asserted they were being poisoned by coal ash dumped at a disposal site by their local power plant. In 2009, they also discovered that fracking wastewater had been added to the contamination.

Local power plant AES Shady Point has dumped enough coal ash at a site in Leflore County to “build a 20-acre mountain less than a mile from town,” Oklahoma’s NewsOn6 reports. A few years ago, residents learned that tanker trucks had also been dumping wastewater from hydraulic fracturing at the coal ash dump site. According to NewsOn6,

Bokoshe resident Dub Tolbert has led the fight to stop coal ash from being dumped there ever since the dumpsite became his next-door neighbor in 1998. Then, he discovered that the tanker trucks that so often lined the rural roads there had been dumping hundreds of millions of gallons of fracking wastewater in Bokoshe’s dumpsite.

Now Bokoshe residents are suing nearly 50 companies including the owners of the dump site as well as oil and gas companies, claiming that years of dumping coal ash and millions of gallons of fracking wastewater has contaminated their drinking water and threatened their health and their land.

In 2009, residents uncovered documents tracking truckloads of wastewater from fracking operations in Arkansas to the dump site in Bokoshe. Also that year, an EPA inspection found toxic contaminants running off the Bokoshe dump site into the tributary of a creek that runs through a nearby residential property.

Dub Tulbert and other residents involved in the lawsuit against the polluting companies also say that 14 of the people living closest to the dump site have been diagnosed with cancer in the last 7 years. According to their Complaint, “there have been and continue to be significant concentrations of cancer victims” in the area surrounding the dump site. Residents also experience respiratory conditions such as asthma and skin and eye irritations.

Fracking wastewater contains toxic and hazardous chemicals used in the fracking process as well as any contaminants picked up deep within the earth such as heavy metals and volatile organic compounds. Wastewater also contains radioactive materials including radium and uranium – two well-known carcinogens.

Officials with the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission told investigators that all fracking wastewater in the state must be disposed of in injection wells, or wells located deep underground where the toxic byproduct of hydraulic fracturing is often stored. Any wastewater produced in Arkansas should not have been trucked to Oklahoma for dumping.

According to NewsOn6, the owners of the dump site had permits from the state of Oklahoma to dump coal ash and “produced” water at the site. State regulators with the Oklahoma Department of Mines (ODM) were responsible for inspecting the site, as it was technically permitted as a mine reclamation project.

Bret Sholar was the ODM inspector responsible for enforcing state regulations at the site; however, Sholar told investigators “it wasn’t his job to know what was in the wastewater.” Sholar says the Oklahoma Corporation Comission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, “authorized” the wastewater and where it came from.

When the EPA test results came to light in 2009, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission revoked its permit allowing oil and gas companies to dump fracking wastewater at the Bokoshe site. But residents continue to feel the health effects caused by contamination from the dump site.

“It’s a very serious problem and it’s not going to go away,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Randy Miller. “It’s not going to go away because they quit dumping. It’s not like a landfill. It’s going to continue to pollute this countryside.”

The permit to dump coal ash at the site is still active and will remain so for another 30 years, according to state regulators.

Photo via: KOTV NewsOn6.

Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.