Coal ash exposure may increase risk of thyroid cancer

Little Blue Run Dam is an unlined coal fly ash impoundment that reaches into parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For those living near this and similar facilities, the risk of thyroid and other cancers can be as high as 1 in 50, which is 2,000 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) "acceptable cancer risk of 1 in 100,000." This statistic only takes into account the risk of cancer from arsenic exposure in drinking water, AlterNet reports.

The impoundment is one of 49 sites around the country whose dam currently has a High Hazard Potential rating from the EPA. The site contains coal ash, which is the toxic by-product of burning coal for electricity. The by-product is known to contain toxic metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and selenium, among others, and so far the EPA has not required special liners to ensure that coal ash does not contaminate nearby waterways.

There have been several EPA public hearings on the matter in the area, as residents are hoping to get the agency to enact federally enforceable standards that will treat coal as toxic waste.

Thyroid cancer is the fastest-growing cancer in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.