Fear Tactics Threaten One of America's Greatest Recycling Success Stories

Jan 25, 2010, 19:49 ET from American Coal Ash Association

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Every year the United States produces about 70 million tons of fly ash from coal-fired power plants. This material has physical and chemical properties that make it an ideal substance for making concrete. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promotes recycling fly ash and other byproducts of coal combustion through its Coal Combustion Products Partnership, a consortium of governmental and industry groups. The agency identifies recycling of these materials a "national priority." Decades of sound science and practical application confirm these materials are safe and pose no threat when managed properly.

Environmentalists against coal-fired power are pressuring the EPA to label fly ash and other coal combustion byproducts "hazardous" and "toxic" against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They have published reports ignoring sound scientific methods with data taken out of context to draw erroneous conclusions intended to evoke fear and force action at a pace too fast to allow for the development of sound and reasoned regulation.

Following the 1 billion gallon coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee in December 2008, environmentalists were emboldened and launched a media campaign with their terms "toxic coal ash" and "toxic sludge." Reporters by and large have adopted these terms without question.  However, most media outlets have ignored the research on toxicity. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Tennessee Department of Health issued a draft report on the public health impacts of the Kingston spill. This report confirms what experts on fly ash and other coal combustion byproducts have stated for years:  these materials do not pose a threat when properly managed.  

"I am familiar with fly ash through my studies of coal combustion byproducts as both a toxicologist and a risk assessor," said Lisa Bradley, a senior toxicologist with AECOM, which determined the cause of the ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. "Fly ash contains trace amounts of naturally occurring substances that only under certain conditions could be potentially toxic, conditions that are unlikely to occur as a result of good ash management or recycling practices. To characterize fly ash or other coal combustion byproducts as 'toxic' or 'hazardous' in all cases is misleading."

The EPA following separate, thorough investigations stated in both 1993 and 2000 that coal combustion byproducts (residues) "did not warrant regulation as hazardous wastes." As recently as September 2009, a senior EPA official stated that regulations for non-hazardous wastes, such as municipal solid waste, are sufficient for regulating disposal of coal combustion byproducts.

Labeling fly ash and other coal combustion byproducts "hazardous wastes" would end or at best severely limit recycling this material.  Firms currently recycling these byproducts have expressed refusal to use a material with such a label for fear of tort exposure.

Another unanticipated consequence of a hazardous waste listing is that the U.S. would see an increase in carbon dioxide emissions of approximately 13 to 14 million tons per year. This is because fly ash used for concrete does not require kilning. For every ton of fly ash used in place of traditional materials in concrete, a ton of carbon dioxide is prevented from entering the earth's atmosphere.

Labeling coal combustion byproducts "hazardous" would result in a massive increase in the amount of material destined for disposal.  Additional landfill space would have to be permitted and developed.  State officials have advised regulators that they do not have the resources to cope with the requirements of handling coal combustion byproducts as hazardous wastes.

A proposed rule from the EPA was delivered to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review in October. Following Executive Order 12866, guidelines that encourage stakeholder participation, stakeholders, including recyclers, have met with OMB staff to share their perspectives on potential EPA actions.

Since the last EPA ruling that coal combustion byproducts do not warrant regulation as hazardous wastes, over 117 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions have been avoided, and over 400 million tons of coal combustion byproducts have been recycled. Regulation of coal combustion byproducts disposal can and should be created without ending this environmental success story.  

The American Coal Ash Association was established more than 40 years ago, in 1968, as a trade organization devoted to recycling the materials created when we burn coal to produce electricity. Our members comprise the world's foremost experts on coal ash (fly ash and bottom ash), and boiler slag, flue gas desulfurization gypsum or "synthetic" gypsum, and other "FGD" materials captured by emissions controls. While other organizations focus on disposal issues, ACAA's mission is to advance the management and use of coal combustion products in ways that are: environmentally responsible; technically sound; commercially competitive; and supportive of a sustainable global community.

Contact: American Coal Ash Association

Thomas H. Adams, Executive Director

Office: 720-870-7897 Mobile: 720-375-2998



SOURCE American Coal Ash Association