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Coal Ash: MYTHS the Utility Industry Wants You to Believe, and FACTS You Need to Know
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Get the real scoop on Coal Ash right here!

Myth #1: 

Coal ash is like dirt.

FACT: Coal ash is hazardous

The EPA defines a waste as “hazardous” if it leaches toxic chemicals, like arsenic or selenium, above a certain threshold when tested using the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP). When EPA tests coal ash using a new, more accurate leach test, the resulting leachate can exceed hazardous waste thresholds. Claims that coal ash is not hazardous are based on the TCLP. When tested with EPA’s new, more accurate test, coal ash leached arsenic at up to 18,000 parts per billion (ppb), over 3 times the hazardous waste threshold. Selenium leached from one coal ash at up to 29,000 ppb, 29 times the hazardous waste threshold. This is not backyard soil, unless you live at a Superfund site. The cancer risk from drinking water contaminated with arsenic from coal ash disposed in unlined ponds is as high as 1 in 50 adults, 2000 times EPA’s goal for acceptable risk.

Myth #2: Coal ash pollution is a problem only at old sites.

FACT: Both new and old coal ash dump sites are contaminating off-site water sources.

Coal ash creates real-world hazards for our drinking water and streams. Recent monitoring data found contaminants such as arsenic, lead, selenium, cadmium, mercury, and other toxins exceeding drinking water standards in groundwater at 26 of 31 coal ash sites. At three sites arsenic was over 90 times the drinking water standard. Twenty-five of the 31 sites are active disposal facilities. Monitoring at the large majority of sites shows contamination is an ongoing problem, not the result of past practices.

Myth #3: Over 40 percent of coal ash is currently safely recycled.

FACT: Some coal ash “recycling” is dangerous to human health and the environment.

Claims that more than 40 percent of coal ash is recycled are misleading. Much of the “beneficial use” of ash by utilities is simply filling up mines and other “structural fills” to avoid disposal costs. Often this is simply unregulated disposal.

Myth #4: A hazardous designation will fill hazardous waste landfills overnight and be prohibitively expensive.

FACT: Coal ash will never be disposed in the nation’s existing hazardous waste landfills.

EPA has the statutory authority to tailor coal ash disposal regulations. Most coal ash is handled in disposal sites owned by the utilities that can be upgraded to meet requirements. Utilities will simply have to employ basic construction and monitoring safeguards and address any contamination the disposal is causing — just like federal regulations require for the disposal of household garbage.

Myth #5: States are doing a good job regulating coal ash.

FACT: State regulations are a patchwork of largely inadequate regulation.

The majority of states fail to require basic safeguards — composite liners, leachate collection systems, adequate groundwater monitoring and corrective action. A 2005 EPA report found that the great majority of coal ash produced in the top 25 coal-consuming states is allowed to be disposed into groundwater tables, the most dangerous type of disposal.

For more detailed information, please go to:  

A copy of the complete article, including citations, is located HERE on our Chapter website

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