The Problem

The Fayette Coal Plant is one of the largest polluters in Texas

City of Austin Declares Climate Emergency, and then Does Nothing

The City of Austin owns one-third of the Fayette Coal Plant in La Grange, TX. This coal plant is one of the largest air polluters in the state of Texas. The Fayette Coal Plant produces coal ash every day. Coal ash is a poisonous sludge that contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and chromium. This poisonous sludge is put in the ground of the Fayette Coal Plant, 48 feet deep, with a thin layer of clay around it. This coal ash seeps into the water table of La Grange. La Grange has twice the cancer rate of the City of Austin. The City of Austin has done nothing to stop more poisonous coal ash from being deposited above La Grange’s water table.

The City of Austin makes $30 million a year profit on its 1/3 ownership of the plant. Some say it is the $30 million that has stopped the City of Austin from taking action.

map of major aquifers of Texas

Map showing the major aquifers of Texas. Improperly lined coal ash pits allow contaminants to leach into our waterways. Image source - Texas Water Development Board

Coal Ash

  • Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead.
  • Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air.
  • In a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project, an independent research and advocacy group, found that the groundwater around coal-fired plants across the state contain levels of pollutants like arsenic, boron, cobalt or lithium that would make it unsafe for human consumption
  • It also found that almost none of the impoundments where plants dispose of spent coal are lined properly to prevent leakage.
  • Coal Ash is buried 48 feet deep pits and then covered with topsoil. The pits have a thin layer of clay lining. This thin lining allows for high levels of contaminants leaching into the water table.

Fayette County Groundwater

The aforementioned report found that the groundwater in Fayette County contains the following:

  • Arsenic – can lead to nervous system damage, cardiovascular issues, urinary tract cancers, lung cancer, and skin cancer. Particularly can impair the brains of developing children (similar to lead)
    • If you live near an unlined wet coal ash pond and you get your drinking water from a well, you may have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking arsenic-contaminated water.
  • Cobalt – associated with blood disease and thyroid damage
  • Manganese 
  • Molybdenum – In animals causes slowed growth, low birth rate, and infertility
  • Nickel
  • Selenium – causes a host of neurological effects including impaired vision, paralysis and even death
  • Sulfate

Health Impacts of coal toxicants. Image source - Coal Ash: The toxic threat to our health and environment

Deceiving Lead Levels

  • Lead levels are no longer tested at the Fayette Coal Plant by the state, LCRA, or the City of Austin
  • Lead poisoning is hard to detect in people and signs and symptoms do not appear until dangerous levels are already reached.
  • Lead levels at Martin Lake Coal Plan in Tatum, Texas (very similar to Fayette) shows a mean concentration of lead at 82.3 ppb. Safe levels are 15 ppb. Max levels at Martin Lake have been measured at 738 ppb.
  • Existing official reports all maintain Fayette’s levels at zero but due to the lack of testing this is misleading 
  • Lead poisoning even at very small levels in small children causes significant impairment of mental and physical development and even death.
  • Children absorb lead four times faster than adults. Lead can severely affect the mental and physical development of children.