Photographic evidence has revealed that a Kentucky utility company has been dumping toxic coal ash wastewater into the Ohio River. Time-lapse photos and satellite images prove that Louisville Gas & Electric Co. has been violating its Clean Water Act permit almost daily for at least the last five years. The lawsuit calls for LG&E to pay $68 million in fines.

A camera fastened to a tree across from the company’s generating station in Mill Creek, Kentucky has documented the discharge of coal ash directly into the Ohio River. That photographic evidence, along with Google Earth satellite images from 1993 to the present, is now being used in a lawsuit against LG&E for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

On Monday, Sierra Club submitted a notice of intent to file a citizen lawsuit against the company. According to the notice, the Mill Creek generating station contains a large, unlined coal ash pond, which has been discharging toxic wastewater into the Ohio River in violation of LG&E’s permit.

“It’s devastating to think that this could have been going on for more than 20 years,” Sierra Club organizer Thomas Pearce, who helped install the hidden camera last year, said in a press release. “It’s like the North Carolina or West Virginia spills but in slow motion, with no one to stop it.”

According to Sierra Club, the Environmental Protection Agency previously classified LG&E’s Mill Creek coal ash pond as “high hazard,” meaning that failure or improper operation of the pond dam will likely lead to loss of human life.

Sierra Club notes that wastewater has been discharged into the Ohio River since March 17, 2009 and continues to discharge into the river on an almost daily basis. Coal ash wastewater contains many toxic pollutants including arsenic, mercury, selenium, lead, and cadmium.

Although the Clean Water Act protects waterways from pollution, there are currently no federal protections specific to coal ash pollution.

Toxic pollutants discharged into the environment can build up in ecosystems and negatively impact the health of humans and animals. LG&E’s Mill Creek facility is situated only 500 feet from a large residential development and 1,000 feet from a middle school.

Still, the state of Kentucky does not require LG&E to test its coal ash wastewater to determine levels of pollutants. The company’s permit under the Clean Water Act even allows it to directly discharge wastewater into the Ohio River on an “occasional” basis, though LG&E violated the permit by discharging into the river nearly every day.

“Coal ash contamination is rampant across the country, and the evidence gathered at Mill Creek is unequivocal,” Earthjustice attorney Thom Cmar said in a press release. “Coal ash has already polluted more than 200 lakes, rivers, streams and drinking waters. The problem continues to worsen, but no federal protections exist. Our household garbage is better regulated than this toxic waste.”

Coal-fired power plants dump more toxic pollution into rivers and streams than any other industry in the US, Sierra Club reports. Recently, a massive coal ash spill by Duke Energy contaminated the Dan River in North Carolina. Less than two weeks later, a coal preparation facility in West Virginia leaked more than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry into Fields Creek near Charleston.

LG&E coasl ash wastewater outflow












Image via: Sierra Club

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