261526 A field and laboratory analysis of a recent coal ash spill in Lake Michigan

Monday, October 29, 2012

Matthew Wolter , Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Carmen Aguilar, PhD , School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Russell Cuhel, PhD , School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Kurt Svoboda, PhD , Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Background: Coal provides the energy for approximately 50% of the United States' electricity production. Coal ash is a combustion by-product and every 100 tons of coal burned generates 13 tons of coal ash which is often stored in large containment ponds. Coal ash is a public health concern because a large volume is generated during the combustion process resulting in elevated levels of contaminants such as arsenic, lead, chromium, mercury, boron, and molybdenum that can inadvertently be released into the environment. In December 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority plant spilled 4.1 million cubic meters of coal ash into the Emory River. On October 31st, 2011, an estimated 1,911 cubic meters of coal ash slid into Lake Michigan after a bluff collapsed near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Study purpose: To evaluate potential environmental health effects resulting from the coal ash spill that contaminated Lake Michigan. Methods: Water and sediment samples were collected from Lake Michigan at sites north (control), adjacent to, and south of the spill. Metal amounts in those samples were determined with analytical chemistry. Embryonic zebrafish were exposed to the water samples and the consequences on organismal development were evaluated. Results: On November 1st, 2011, the Wisconsin DNR sampled water/sludge from Lake Michigan and observed 64% of their water metal parameters to be above the previous year's maximum levels. Aluminum and thallium exceeded regulatory standard limits and arsenic levels in sludge were three times higher than that seen in uncontaminated soil. Our sampling two weeks after the spill found 46% of water metal parameters still above the previous year's maximum levels, with arsenic still above regulation standards. Zebrafish exposed to contaminated water samples had accelerated development (p=0.0147) compared to zebrafish exposed to control samples. Necessary precautions should be taken to prevent future coal ash spills that could contaminate drinking water sources.

Learning Areas:
Environmental health sciences
Public health biology
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines

Learning Objectives:
1) Identify what coal ash is, what it is composed of, and how it can be utilized. 2) Compare background Lake Michigan water samples with concentrations after the spill. 3) Describe what can happen to zebrafish embryos during development when exposed to coal ash contaminated water.

Keywords: Water Quality, Environmental Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been thoroughly researching this field for over a year prior to the initiation of this project and have consulted with experts in the field. I have been involved in the review of the background literature, study design, field and laboratory data collection, analysis, interpretation, and writing.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.