Coal ash

Who knew?

“Holly Schean, a waitress whose home, which she shared with her parents, was swept off its foundation when millions of cubic yards of ash breached a retaining wall early Monday morning, said, ‘They’re giving their apologies, which don’t mean very much.'” (New York Times, 12/24/08)

Millions of cubic yards of what? coal ash or fly ash is produced when coal is burned to produce energy. In Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority stored millions of tons of the stuff, enough to spread one foot of coal ash sludge over 3,000 acres. When an earthen retaining wall broke, the nasty stuff swept away homes and spilled into tributaries of the Tennessee River. In addition to the destruction of homes and land, residents worried about the toxicity of the ash.

Coal ash contains heavy metals, including lead, chromium, nickel and arsenic. It may also contain carcinogens. When the sludge dries, its dust further endangers the health of those who breathe it. The New York Times reported, “But a draft report last year by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that fly ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal to produce electricity, does contain significant amounts of carcinogens and retains the heavy metal present in coal in far higher concentrations. The report found that the concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold.”

Coal ash has not been classified as a hazardous waste, because of strong industry pressure.

Would that be the same industry trying to sell us “clean coal”?

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