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The historic coal-burning S.S. Badger car ferry dumps an average of at least 3.8 tons of coal ash waste into Lake Michigan daily as it chugs between Wisconsin and Michigan.
No problem, says the S.S. Badger’s operator -- Lake Michigan Carferry Service -- in publicizing a misleading statement that claims the ferry’s coal ash is classified as not hazardous.
The non-hazardous label is for U.S. EPA regulatory purposes only, however, and doesn’t reflect the true toxicity of the waste. Testing shows coal ash waste contains numerous dangerous metals and elements -- including arsenic, lead and mercury -- that can cause cancer and other serious health effects when contaminating drinking water or inhaled as fugitive dust. Coal waste also pollutes the water with suspended solids. The EPA has said it is not convinced that laboratory tests completed on the S.S. Badger's waste were appropriate for discharges into waters, nor that they had detection levels which were sufficiently sensitive.
Though technology has existed for decades to convert the S.S. Badger, it is the only Lake Michigan car ferry that continues to burn coal for fuel. Other Lake Michigan car ferries from that era were either retired or converted from coal in the 1960s to comply with pollution standards. The S.S. Badger, however, benefits from terms of an EPA-issued Vessel General Permit that allows it to continue dumping coal ash and other coal combustion waste products into Lake Michigan’s waters until December 2012.
“It’s unclear whether any potential enforcement action may follow that deadline, or whether continued extensions or exemptions are part of their working plan,” says Lyman Welch, Alliance Water Quality Program manager. “As science shows new threats to drinking water from coal ash, the S.S. Badger must stop using the Great Lakes as its personal ash can.”
According to the statement posted on the Lake Michigan Carferry Service's website, the ferry burns an average of 55 tons of coal per day during its five-month sailing season. Welch says the S.S. Badger’s total emissions are likely higher than the 3.8 tons of waste it admits to dumping daily, as that amount doesn’t include fly ash emissions into the air – visible as a big brown cloud that trails after the ship on its travels across Lake Michigan.
Welch says the Alliance has requested information through the federal Freedom of Information Act regarding the volume of ash the S.S. Badger reported to the EPA, but that information hasn’t been made public in order to protect the S.S. Badger’s business interests.
“If S.S. Badger fails to change this outdated practice, EPA must act to enforce the 2012 deadline to protect Lake Michigan,” Welch says.
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