pollution

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

High levels of PFAS chemicals have contaminated a plastics recycling company in Henderson, Kentucky, spreading through the air and water and likely contaminating a creek that flows into the Ohio River, state officials say. 

The company, Shamrock Technologies Inc., notified state regulators about the problem after hiring a consultant to screen for the pollution three years ago. 

State records obtained by WFPL News through a records request show the extent of the pollution at the site, where PFAS levels rival those found at EPA Superfund sites on military installations across the country, but get far less attention.  

 

  

Google Earth

A Marathon oil refinery in eastern Kentucky is one of 13 refineries across the country that released harmful levels of a cancer-causing pollutant, according to a report from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project.

Fence line readings for benzene jumped 233% between 2019 and 2020 at the Catlettsburg Marathon refinery near Ashland, and were 11% above action levels designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Benzene is a common pollutant found in oil and a known human carcinogen. The increase in benzene levels at the Catlettsburg Marathon refinery is likely the result of two leaks from March and October, said Eric Schaeffer, Environmental Integrity Project executive director.

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

On a recent sticky July afternoon, Diana Green stands on the muddy bank of lower Davis Creek in South Charleston, West Virginia.  

As a child, she enjoyed wading in the nearly 10-mile-long stream in search of crayfish and salamanders. As an adult, Green set down roots there, purchasing a farm that backs up to the creek. Seeing the waterway choked with trash and pollution, Green helped form a small community-based watershed group in the 1990s.

The Davis Creek Watershed Association has been dedicated to improving the environmental quality of the watershed, and 25 years later, she says they have largely succeeded. Several different fish species, from skipjack to bass live in the stream. 

 


Ryan Van Velzer

On a hilltop overlooking the Trimble County Generating Station, Quang Do and his family ring a large, bronze pagoda bell embellished with images of Buddha. The sound vibrates in your chest, thrumming over the hills into the valley below.

Do’s father built this temple here about 20 years ago. Today, Do shares it with his wife, his 9-year-old son, Alexander and a single monk who lives at the temple full time.

Along the banks of the Ohio River, in the town of Wises Landing, another part of the community gathers inside a Baptist church built at the turn of the 20th Century. Before the sermon begins, they ask for the names of friends and family who might need their prayers.

Division of Waste Management

The coal used to power our homes leaves behind mountains of ash. At one power plant in Western Kentucky, that coal ash is stored in a pair of unlined landfills that may have been polluting local groundwater for as long as 18 years.

Evidence from satellite images, state inspections and the utility’s own groundwater monitoring reports reveal mountains of ash slowly leaching pollution into the nearby environment at the D.B. Wilson Power Plant, about 40 minutes south of Owensboro.

Brittany Patterson

More than 100 people braved freezing temperatures to both listen and have their say in front of Ohio environmental officials at a recent hearing in Belmont County, Ohio. For the three dozen or so people who testified, the stakes were high.

The hearing at Shadyside High School focused on a nearly 300-page, densely technical, draft air quality permit. The permit is one more step towards a massive, multi-billion dollar petrochemical plant proposed for the banks of the Ohio River just a few miles away from the auditorium.


JAGA / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

A multi-state commission charged with protecting the Ohio River decided Thursday to postpone a decision to dramatically alter pollution controls.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, or ORSANCO, has been considering a proposal that would reduce its oversight of water pollution control standards along the Ohio River. The proposal, called "option 2" would eliminate the body's water pollution control standards for industrial and municipal wastewater discharges into the river.

New Coal Ash Rules Extend Deadlines For Leaking Ponds

Aug 1, 2018
Kentucky Division of Waste Management

Kentucky power plants will have more time to clean up pollution leaking out of coal ash landfills and ponds under new federal rules.

Last month, A WFPL News and Ohio Valley ReSource analysis found contaminated groundwater at 14 Kentucky power plants. That’s every power plant covered under the federal rules.

The pollution comes from the piles of ash leftover from burning coal for energy. In Kentucky, the ash is stored in landfills and ponds that are mostly unlined — meaning there isn’t any sort of barrier between the coal ash and the soil.

Bill Hughes

At a committee hearing on Tuesday, state lawmakers discussed how 400 tons of low-level radioactive waste ended up in a landfill in Estill County.

The waste is the result of backflow produced from the natural gas extraction method called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or, “fracking.”

Earlier this year, state officials acknowledged that the waste from fracking sites in West Virginia ended up in Irvine, Kentucky’s Blue Ridge Landfill, which is operated by Advanced Disposal.

The company has said it didn’t knowingly accept any illegal waste.

Estill County Judge Executive Wallace Taylor said that waste from the deep-drilling process needs to be better regulated.

“We cannot let some large corporation come in and think they can push over what some think as hillbillies,” Taylor said during a Natural Resources and Environment committee hearing on Tuesday.

A southwestern Kentucky river is set to undergo testing and farmers and businesses could face more restrictions in an effort to reduce river pollution depending upon the result. The United States Geological Survey will test the Little River, which runs through Trigg and Christian counties and flows into Lake Barkley.