Month 4, Day 27: Truly Vile Stuff

Coal is dirty stuff. It’s dirty when you take it out of the earth, it’s dirty when you burn it, and the stuff that’s left behind is even dirtier. Google the phrase “coal ash waste” and you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled into a stomach-churning nightmare.

Bizarrely, the Environmental Protection Agency is still trying to figure out whether it should be classified as “hazardous” or not. On one side, the entire human race — on the other, the executives of big coal companies (of whom the odious Don Blankenship is the most repulsive example).

Thanks to Daily Kos diarist DWG, I was given an opportunity to make my letter for the day a note to OMB director Peter Orszag, urging that the EPA move forward on regulating coal ash. You should do it, too!

2. Urge EPA regulation of coal ash as a hazardous waste.

The EPA will announce its decision on regulating coal ash as hazardous waste in April. At the moment, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is holding up the release of new regulations. The OMB and EPA are being barraged with pleas from the coal industry, utilities, business groups, state regulatory agencies, and politicians opposing classification of coal ash waste as a hazardous material. It would be extremely helpful if you would take a moment to drop a line to the OMB to encourage them to move forward with regulation of coal combustion waste as a hazardous material. Remind them that the patchwork of state regulatory agencies has failed to protect the public against spills and contamination, there is overwhelming evidence of heavy metal toxic contamination in water on or near containment sites, and secondary uses need to be tightly regulated using a national standard to prevent contamination of water resources.

Use this form from the Natural Resource Defense Council to provide feedback to the OMB.

Here’s what I wrote:

I write to urge that the Environmental Protection Agency move forward in regulating coal ash as hazardous waste.

There can be no doubt that coal combustion waste is incredibly dangerous. The scientific evidence is incontrovertible. Among the sources is the EPA itself, which recently found that pollution from coal ash dumps significantly increases both cancer and non-cancer health risks and degrades water quality in groundwater supplies. After examining almost two hundred sites throughout the country, the report found that unlined coal ash waste ponds pose a cancer risk 900 times above what is defined as ‘acceptable.’ The report also found releases of toxic chemicals and metals such as arsenic, lead, boron, selenium, cadmium, thallium, and other pollutants at levels that pose both environmental and human health risks.

This information alone should be enough to move coal ash waste into the “hazardous materials” category. But there’s more.

Coal contains trace amounts of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium. In “whole” coal they’re not a problem, but when coal is burned, the fly ash contains uranium and thorium concentrated to up to ten times their original levels.

In a 1978 paper, J. P. McBride and his colleagues at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) estimated fly ash radiation exposure around Tennessee and Alabama coal plants and compared it with exposure levels around nuclear power plants — and they found that people living close to coal plants got significantly higher dosages of radiation than those living around nuclear facilities. Depending on local factors, radiation doses were anywhere from three to two hundred times higher.

State regulatory agencies have utterly failed to protect the public against spills and contamination. When coal ash waste dams collapse, the effects are absolutely devastating, leaving behind barren, grotesque landscapes from which all life has been eradicated.

The notion that any controversy exists at all about the hazardous qualities of coal ash is bizarre. If Don Blankenship and the Board of Directors at Massey Coal think it’s such benign stuff, perhaps they could store it in the basements of their mansions — but somehow I don’t think they’d go along.

Please ensure that coal ash is designated a Hazardous Material, and likewise ensure that its storage is strictly regulated, with significant penalties levied for violations. If coal companies actually had to pay fines appropriate to the damage their waste products do, the myth of coal as “cheap energy” would vanish overnight.

Warren Senders

If its not water its coal, if its not coal its aluminium waste by products ~ The whole system from top to bottom needs to be changed for the future of our planet!”After examining almost two hundred sites throughout the country, the report found that unlined coal ash waste ponds pose a cancer risk 900 times above what is defined as ‘acceptable.”

More people should be aware of sites like this that inform and educate people.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *