FARMINGTON — A recently released Sierra Club report on the dangers of coal ash disposal sites states that Four Corners Power Plant sites pose a threat to Navajos living in the area.
Coal ash is the waste left behind when coal is burned for electricity. It contains contaminants, including arsenic, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium and selenium.
The 40-page report, which was released on Thursday, focuses on coal ash sites in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia.
The report states that, for nearly 40 years, coal ash from the Four Corners Power Plant was sent back to Navajo Mine and dumped into disposal pits that have no protective linings or barriers between the soil and the coal ash.
The Four Corners Power Plant is owned by the Arizona Public Service Co. and Navajo Mine is the sole coal supplier to the power plant.
APS spokesman Damon Gross said since the report was recently issued, the company has not had an opportunity to thoroughly review it.
"We work closely with the EPA to ensure the plant is compliant with all applicable environmental regulations," Gross said. "Also, we currently are preparing our plan to comply with the EPA's anticipated rules for coal ash storage."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing proposed protections to regulate coal ash and is expected to release a final rule in December.
The rule will establish requirements on how coal ash will be stored and will decide whether or not to designate it as a hazardous waste.
The report also focuses on the close proximity of the coal ash disposal area to Navajo Nation residents.
"These coal ash sites are neighbors to large numbers of Navajo people, putting their health and welfare in danger," the report states.
In addition to the health effects, the report says that the Navajo people are seeing impacts to the places they gather plants for traditional ceremony and wellness.
As of 2000, APS had disposed from 50 to 55 million tons of coal ash waste from the power plant in Navajo Mine, covering approximately 230 acres of land, according to the report.
Since 2007, APS has disposed coal ash in two large lined landfills near the power plant with the larger of the two landfills rising 110 feet above the natural grade, the report states.
At the end of last year, APS permanently closed units 1, 2 and 3 at the Four Corners Power Plant.
"The closure of those units has reduced the amount of coal ash generated by the plant by 30 percent," Gross said.
According to the report, the coal-fired power plants in New Mexico generate 3.6 million tons of coal ash each year.
The report highlights the risks to groundwater or waterways if coal ash spills, leaks or leaches into these sources.
There are 28 coal ash ponds at three power plant sites and the state requires no groundwater monitoring or financial assurances for coal ash dams, the report states.