EPA Seeks Scientific Study of Coal Ash Reuse; Might Affect Final Rule

Date: December 9, 2011

Source: News Room

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently indicated that her agency will issue a scientific analysis of the potential health risks from beneficial reuse of coal ash in products such as cement late next year. The EPA has been weighing whether to regulate coal combustion residuals (CCRs) as solid waste under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) or subject to stricter hazardous waste controls under subtitle C. EPA’s plans to release the study ahead of the final rule means that it will likely shape the final decision. In remarks made on Dec. 6, Jackson allowed that her agency had no scientific risk data on the beneficial reuse of CCRs even though it has been allowed and that the agency should not be making judgments without such data.

EPA, until recently, promoted beneficial reuse of coal ash through its suspended Coal Combustion Products Partnership (C2P2) website. The site included details on environmental benefits of reuse of coal ash, including reduced land disposal, but EPA has suspended the C2P2 website while it works to complete the RCRA rule. An Inspector General’s report said EPA applied “significantly limited” risk screening, testing and modeling for the 15 categories of beneficial reuse it promoted through C2P2. Without adequate safeguards, coal waste contaminants can leach into ground water and migrate to drinking water sources, posing a potential human health risk, the report said.

Companies that beneficially reuse coal ash in wallboard, cement and other products have, however, argued that EPA should ensure the final rule does not harm the industry. The companies fear that a hazardous waste subtitle C rule would give coal ash a stigma harming its prospects as a reuse material, decimating their industry.

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