For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
EPA Promoting Coal Ash for Consumer Use
Partnership with Industry Sidesteps Public and Worker Toxic Exposure Concerns
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an explicit partnership
agreement with the coal industry to market its combustion wastes for
consumer, agricultural and industrial uses without knowing the true
health risks, according to documents released today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, 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
Each year, the coal industry generates
approximately 125 million tons of wastes from burning coal in the form
of fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization
gypsum. Nearly half of that total - 50 million tons - is re-used in
everything from road construction to (industry claims) tooth paste,
despite a growing body of scientific research indicating that these
coal combustion wastes (CCW) are toxic and should not be allowed in
contact with water or soils, and certainly not in direct contact with
Due to a regulatory retreat in 2000, EPA declined to
declare CCW as hazardous waste, a decision the agency is now revisiting
following the disastrous spills in December from Tennessee Valley
Authority sludge ponds. As a result, CCW is virtually unregulated,
despite unquestionably high toxic content.
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.
dangers of using CCW are illustrated by the Battlefield Golf Club in
Chesapeake, Virginia where coal fly ash was applied to contour the
course. In a March 30, 2009, report EPA's consultant found that boron,
lead, arsenic, barium and other heavy metals had leached off the course
and contaminated groundwater, including residential wells. The
inspection report concluded that "future migration of metals contained
in fly ash remains a potential risk to nearby wells."
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," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "This is a
classic leap-before-you-look EPA initiative where health and safety
questions get asked only after the fact."
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.
EPA and state
toxicologists are also raising concerns that the toxicity of CCW has
been significantly underestimated and, due to more sophisticated
pollution controls, the toxic levels of these wastes are substantially
higher than they were 30 years ago when EPA official estimates were
"Ironically, ‘green' rating systems give extra credit
for using coal wastes that may become a later source of pollution,"
Ruch added. "EPA should immediately halt this marketing program until
it has set toxicity standards supported by peer reviewed research."
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.