Coal ash disposal on the mainland USA
"On December 22, 2008, a dike ruptured at the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant and spilled more than a billion gallons of coal ash. Elmer Lowe was hired as a clean-up worker and is part of an ongoing lawsuit against the company that hired him.
Lowe said he had been "in perfect health" when he was tasked with cleaning up the spill without the necessary protective gear.
"It looked like it was white, and it was clay, and it was nasty mud," Lowe's wife, Donna, said. "But it wasn't mud, it was the coal ash on him." Lowe had gone from an active, healthy man to weighing just 112 pounds and prescribed several medications.
The Obama administration responded to the spill in 2015, establishing new federal regulations for coal ash storage, which included monitoring nearby groundwater as well as the disposal.
However, under President Donald Trump's EPA head, former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, regulations are being weakened. Wheeler declined CBS News' request for an interview.
Gina McCarthy, who led the agency when the regulations were implemented, said that the thousands of tons of coal ash coming into the mainland U.S. from Puerto Rico concern her, as does the current administration's weakening of regulations.
"We were dealing with contamination that had direct impact on human beings," she stressed. "Rulemaking is supposed to protect people. What I would call a rollback and a weakening of protections is focused more on making the industrial pollutant not have to pay to clean up their pollution, and much less about protecting the disadvantaged communities that government is supposed to protect."