Are coal-fired power plants affecting your drinking water? | 5/24/2019 | Staff
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When you get a drink of water from your fridge or sink, do you think about where that water came from? It has traveled through pipes from a water treatment plant where it underwent chemical processes to make it safe to drink. Chlorine is added to the water to eradicate harmful bacteria that cause illnesses like cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. But the chlorine can react with natural materials in the water, creating disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that can be harmful to people. Specifically, when bromide is present in the water from natural sources or from human activities, such as wastewater discharges at power plants, the disinfection byproducts formed are more toxic.

Jeanne VanBriesen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and recent Ph.D. graduate Kelly Good have completed a study analyzing how bromide discharges from coal-fired power plants can affect drinking water across the United States.

Choices - Power - Plants - VanBriesen - Fellow

"It's very complex because it depends on the choices that power plants make," said VanBriesen, who is also a fellow with the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. "Each choice—often made for good reasons like controlling mercury, controlling other air pollutants, or reducing cost with a tax credit—affects whether bromide will be discharged, potentially affecting a drinking water plant."

The bromide found in coal usually leaves the power plant in exhaust gases via the stack. But if the power plant deploys a treatment technology to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and prevent acid rain, it captures both sulfur dioxide and, incidentally, bromide. In this case the bromide is released into the river, where it can enter drinking water plants and cause increased DBP formation.


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