Earlier today Appalachian Voices and a number of partner organizations sued the EPA over their approval of Kentucky’s new, weaker standard for selenium pollution.
Selenium is extremely toxic to fish, and causes deformities and reproductive failure at extremely low levels. Selenium is commonly discharged from coal mines and coal ash ponds, but currently Kentucky doesn’t regulate its discharge from these facilities.
These new standards were proposed at the behest of coal industry groups, likely motivated citizens groups’ success at requiring companies in other states to clean up their selenium pollution. We have also seen governments in Virginia and West Virginia take steps towards making similar roll backs to their own standards; this makes the weakening of Kentucky’s standards even more alarming.
Kentucky is taking a standard generally know by scientists to be too weak already and making it even weaker. The state is changing the standard from 5 ug/L in water to 8.6 ug/g in fish tissue. However, a new study out this week shows that selenium pollution is a problem at much lower levels (subscription required), 2.7 ug/L and 4ug/g in fish tissue.
The new standard is significantly weaker than the previous standard, but the main problem is that the standard is no longer based on the amount of selenium in water but is now based on the amount of selenium in fish tissue. By making the standard fish tissue based Kentucky has made it extremely difficult to enforce. Let’s make an analogy for comparison: