Coal Tattoo

Does U.S. EPA think toxic coal ash is good for you?


A sign is seen near the entrance to the Kingston Fossil Plant in Kingston, Tenn., warning the public to stay out during the cleanup of a massive coal ash spill at the plant. AP photo.

The Obama administration has made much of its promise to begin regulating the handling and disposal of toxic ash from coal-fired power plants.

But is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also promoting coal ash for consumer uses, without actually knowing that doing so is safe?

The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility thinks so, according to a report issued last week:

… One arm of EPA now is moving to classify coal ash and other combustion byproducts as hazardous waste even as another arm is promoting its use in wallboard, kitchen counters and carpet backing among an array of so-called “beneficial uses”.

According to PEER:

During the Bush administration, EPA entered into a formal partnership with the coal industry and its various arms, most prominently, the American Coal Ash Association – an arrangement that continues to this day. This joint venture is called the Coal Combustion Products Partnership or C2P2. EPA promotion of coal wastes generates more than $11 billion each year for the industry, but industry derives immensely greater economic benefit by avoiding costs it would face if CCW was treated as hazardous waste.

The group added:

Nearly half the recycled CCW is used in concrete and structural fill, where, it is argued, the material is fixed in place and does not reach the environment. Yet, EPA has conducted no research on what happens when the materials are broken apart, burned or flooded –events where structural integrity is compromised. Meanwhile, other products, such as carpets, are routinely disposed of by burning.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, said last week:

This is the dirtiest waste that pollution control devices keep out of the atmosphere, while the pollution control agency, EPA, pushes to apply that same waste on agricultural lands, on highways for snow removal and inside kitchens. This is a classic leap-before-you-look EPA initiative where health and safety questions get asked only after the fact.