Update: Where Is the Coal Ash Waste Going?

by Bill Chameides | July 6th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 1 comment

They’ve finally figured out what to do with all that coal ash from the spill last December in Tennessee. Send it to a poor, primarily African-American community in Alabama.

You might remember way back in the depths of last winter came the news of a rather uncommon environmental catastrophe: approximately 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash stored in a so-called storage pond near the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Power Plant broke through a wall and spilled into the Emory River.

Studies following the spill showed the stuff clogging the river was loaded with arsenic, toxic metals and high levels of radioactivity. Clearly, that stuff had to be cleaned out, removed and sent somewhere, but where?

A solution has been found!

TVA has cut a deal with some enterprising entrepreneurs from Atlanta who just happen to operate the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, Alabama. Reportedly one of the largest in the nation, this landfill has up until now mostly been the last stop for household garbage. But now it has officially graduated to the big leagues — toxic waste.

The landfill will reportedly receive 85 railway cars of the toxic spill residue every two days, eventually totaling 3 million cubic yards or about 3.9 million tons. This is in spite of the fact that “fly ash waste, bottom ash waste, boiler slag waste, or flue gas emission control waste which, result from the combustion of coal or other fossil fuels at electric or steam generating plants” is specifically excluded from the list of acceptable waste streams for Arrowhead.

But, hey, the coal ash has to go somewhere. Why not a minority community in Alabama where some 35 percent of the population reportedly live below the poverty line? And oh, in case you were wondering, there is money involved. Perry County stands to rake in close to $4.1 million at $1.05 per ton [pdf] dumped in its citizens’ backyard.

So this is the solution they’ve come up with. Is it the best? I would think we ought to take a couple of steps back and think things through a little better. For starters, let’s call coal ash waste what is — hazardous — and classify the stuff as “hazardous waste.” More importantly, let’s consider the consequences of the waste before we continue to generate more and more of this coal ash. We can’t start this work too soon. Environmental Protection Agency has just publicized a list of 44 “high hazard potential” coal ash waste sites around the country.

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1 Comment

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  1. Dan K.
    Jul 6, 2009

    Can’t the ash be used in LEED construction by mixing it with cement or concrete so that it does not have to go into a landfill, thus ‘recycling’ it?

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