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Lake Sutton, just outside Wilmington, N.C., is a popular recreation and fishing spot but has a deadly secret lurking beneath its surface. There are 900,000 fish there dying every year and thousands more are being deformed. This isn’t the result of a large fishing competition or some new fish disease — this is the direct result of a power company poisoning the lake.

A new report has been released by the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., proving the connection between coal ash pollution and the death of 900,000 fish every year. The lake is owned by Progress Energy, who use it as a cooling reservoir for the coal-fired electric L.V. Sutton Steam plant. They even use the lake as their own dumping grounds, disposing coal ash wastewater right into the lake!

According to the report, the coal ash wastewater contains a trace element called selenium. This contaminant has been proven to directly cause developmental abnormalities, as well as reproductive failure in fish.

Progress Energy is literally turning the lake into a toxic dumping ground and with no accountability for their actions. In fact, they even released their own study in 2012 claiming there were no deformities observed in the lake in 2011 — a completely opposite result to that of the recent biological study.

If the deliberate poisoning of hundreds of thousands of fish doesn’t get you angry enough, the lake is also open to public fishing, exposing people to this wastewater as well. Furthermore, loss of aquatic life in this lake is estimated to be worth $4.5 million and $7 million annually.

Unfortunately, even if the coal plant were to close today resulting in zero dumping of coal ash wastewater, the lake would still have selenium in it for years. This consequence is the direct result of allowing a company like Progress Energy to be irresponsible. When will corporations be held accountable for the irreversible, or long-term, devastation of ecosystems?

N.C. isn’t the only place where coal ash wastewater is an issue, The Sierra Club along with local coalitions released a report in July about the lack of regulation in Indiana and how only nine out of 19 power plants are required to report how much selenium they are dumping into waterways. In fact, these plants have discharged an average of 2,700 pounds of arsenic and selenium a year.

It gets even worse nationwide as nearly 70 percent of the 274 coal plants that discharge wastewater have no limits on how much contaminants they can actually dump and a third of them have no requirement to monitor or even report discharges. This unregulated toxic dumping does have impacts on the health of the ecosystem and the people who live nearby.

Through bioaccumulation and the food chain, humans end up eating plants and animals that have toxic chemicals building up inside them, resulting in various forms of cancer, birth defects and even cognitive development in children.

It’s unbelievable that the coal industry gets away with such horrendous acts against nature and humans. The release of toxic chemicals directly into waterways is not only illogical but also irresponsible, and accountability needs to be enforced, but most importantly, it needs to stop!

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