CHARLOTTE -- Charlotte was one of seven cities where public hearings were held Tuesday on coal ash. The EPA is proposing new rules that would address the risks of its disposal.
The ash is a byproduct of burning coal for energy. Currently, utility companies dispose of it in ponds or in landfills.
"Without proper protections, the contaminants in these residuals can leak into groundwater and migrate to drinking water," said Bob Dellinger, of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Contaminants the EPA says can cause cancer.
"I can only imagine what it's like for the parents of the 1.5 million children who live near these sites and depend on drinking water and bathing water," Mary Anne Hitt, of the Sierra Club, said.
Energy officials disagree with that claim about the health risks.
"On four different occasions, they have reaffirmed that what is contained in these byproducts of coal ash are non-hazardous," Duke Energy spokesman Jason Wall said.
Nevertheless, those potential dangers are why the EPA held the public hearing.
The agency is proposing first-of-its-kind regulations on coal ash disposal and management.
The EPA is looking at two options -- treat ash as if it's hazardous waste, the option preferred by environmental groups, or require protective liners for landfills and regularly monitor the groundwater beneath them, which is supported by the energy companies.
EPA officials have three more hearings in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Louisville.