Potential health effects of emissions from Plant Scherer near Macon are under a new review by the state. It comes after some residents reported high levels of uranium in nearby wells.
The Department of Public Health will start by analyzing existing environmental data about the Juliette coal plant’s emissions and its nearby coal ash pond, which stores coal waste.
If officials find that more data needs to be collected, they can perform new emissions tests as part of a public health assessment.
The health department’s Carla Coley says residents’ complaints of gastro-intestinal diseases and other ailments prompted the study.
“The concerns that have been mentioned to us are elevated levels of uranium in groundwater supplies, which they feel may be related to releases from the plant," she said in an interview. "There are neurological disorders and G.I. disorders, that can’t be explained.”
Georgia Power owns Plant Scherer. Burning coal typically produces hard metals such as uranium. Coley says said it’s unclear if the coal plant’s emissions are causing health problems.
But Seth Gunning with the environmental group the Sierra Club says data from other coal plants show high levels of uranium. And he says the ash pond that stores coal waste is part of the problem.
“The plant Scherer coal ash pond, like most of Georgia Power’s coal ash ponds, is unlined," he said. "It doesn’t have any leeching cachement system, and they are permitted to discharge water from that coal ash pond into groundwater.”
Gunning is analyzing samples he took from 15 wells around the plant. He expects to have results in about three weeks.
Officials with Georgia Power say studies have shown the uranium occurs naturally in granite, and that groundwater samples haven’t uncovered anything unsafe.
While some residents reported high levels of uranium in wells near the plant, Georgia Power spokeswoman Valerie Hendrickson disputed those claims. She cited a report from the University of Georgia that showed there aren't high levels of uranium in wells in Monroe County, where the Juliette plant is.
Hendrickson says the company will cooperate with the study. But she also questions the claims about coal ash.
“After nearly 20 years of detailed study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 1993 and then reaffirmed in 2000 that coal ash is not hazardous," she said. "Even so, we follow protocols that meet and exceed standards for disposal and storage.”
The review begins on June 1.
The Department of Health is seeking feedback from Juliette residents about the plant. To contact Margaret Gunter at the North Central Health District in Macon, call (478) 751-6113, or send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.