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    The US May Shut Down One of Its Last Coal-Fired Steamships

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Apparently, some of the United States' boatsmen are still living in the 1860s. That, after all, was roughly when coal-powered steamboats were last popular. And yet, there are a few of the filthy ol' coal ships chugging around the nation—and in freshwater, no less. 

    This news came to my attention today, when I discovered that the EPA is currently deciding whether the 410-foot SS Badger (that's it above) should continue to ferry passengers across Lake Michigan. And why, pray tell, might an ancient coal-fired ferry have to hang up its hat? It's historical, after all.

    Well, it dumps 500 tons of ash slurry into one of the nation's largest freshwater stores every season. Coal ash slurry, fun stuff that it is, is full of arsenic and mercury. And it is routinely sinking to the bottom of one of the world's largest lakes, where people in Wisconsin and Michigan drink it up. 

    The company that operates the ferry was asked in 2008 to stop dumping toxic sludge all over the place, and it said sure, just give us four years to fix 'er up. Alas, four years have come and gone, and still the coal-powered steamship slugs on, still powered by coal. 

    Rival companies that operate ships not built with technology that is 150 years old--even a truly modern electric one--stand to swoop in if the EPA decides, as it seems is the only reasonable thing to do, to put the coal-powered chugger out of its misery. The old Badger-is a fine example of how old, outmoded, even dangerous technology persists through the ages. We're not nearly so modern as we think.

    Image via the SS Badger site