By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke, CNN
(CNN) – Marcy Hughes has lived in western Pennsylvania her whole life. Her home in Beaver County is like a picture postcard: Rolling hills. Lush farmland. Great schools. Back in the 1970s, Hughes says, she listened enthusiastically as representatives for Pennsylvania Power proposed building "Little Blue Run." Sure, its purpose was a place to dispose of coal ash - the waste left over from burning coal for electricity - but, that coal ash would serve as a foundation for a man-made lake.
"They said that they were going to have it where you could swim, you could picnic - they even showed a sailboat."
Today, Little Blue Run is a 1300-acre facility, with an impoundment measuring nearly 1000 acres, and 400 feet deep in some places. FirstEnergy Corporation, the utility company that now owns Little Blue, pumps tons of coal ash and other waste into it every year.
But, you won't find any sailboats. The EPA says that coal ash contains toxic agents like arsenic, cadmium and lead, some of which are known to cause cancer. And, Little Blue is about to get bigger. FirstEnergy produces so much waste to make electricity, it wants to build an adjacent facility to store it.
Little Blue Run is one of about 600 surface impoundments in the country that contain coal ash from coal-fired power plants like FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. In addition, there are about 300 landfills containing dry waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency is now holding hearings across the country on coal ash waste. After the disastrous coal ash spill in Tennessee two years ago, the agency is considering whether to toughen regulations and classify coal-ash as "hazardous" waste. Right now it's considered ordinary garbage. The proposed changes could have an enormous financial impact on the hundreds of coal-fired power plants that produce half the nation's electricity.