This article from 60 Minutes is very compelling. Many think of by-product coal ash as harmless, but the EPA is not so sure and the companies that produce them can't prove that they are safe!
Excerpts from the article.
Environmental scientists tell us that the concentrations of mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxic metals are considerably higher in coal ash than in ordinary soil. The summer heat can bake the ash into a fine talc-like powder that can wreak havoc on your lungs.
Asked if there are any environmental concerns, the executive told the mayor, "No, sir. We at Dominion Power are fully in compliance with all the federal and state regulations."
Two years later, an internal company study about handling the ash for the golf course recommended that workers use "impervious gloves" and "particulate-filtering respirators" due to "potential health...risks."
Coal ash disposal is regulated by the states, some of which have strict rules, some hardly any at all. The new head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, is reviewing whether the federal government should get involved by labeling coal ash a "hazardous waste," which would mean much tighter regulations and oversight.The industry opposes calling coal ash a hazardous waste. They're pushing for another solution: recycling.
Most power companies rely on recycling because it cuts the 130 million tons of coal waste every year in half. The industry calls recycling "beneficial use." "Ugh! Don't even… The only people it was beneficial for were for those utility companies that had to get that stuff off their hands because they were already in violation with stockpiling too much. That is what 'beneficial use' meant," Robyn Pierce said.
But the EPA in the Bush administration endorsed beneficial use and now coal ash is recycled in dozens of ways: as cement substitute, it's also placed under roads and in deserted mines and it's added to products from carpets to bowling balls to bathroom sinks.
While the industry says the uses have been studied, Stahl asked Lisa Jackson whether the EPA knows if some of the recycled products are safe.
"Schoolroom carpeting," Stahl asked.
"I don't know. I have no data that says that's safe at this point," Jackson replied.
"Kitchen counters," Stahl asked.
"The same," Jackson replied.
"Fifty thousand tons of coal ash byproducts have been used in agriculture. What's being done through EPA to look at the use of coal ash in agricultural products? Anything? Is there a study?" Stahl asked.
"I'm not sure that there's any study out there right now," Jackson said.
"How did we get to a place where coal ash is in products without anybody knowing?" Stahl asked.
"We're here, now, because coal ash at this time isn't a regulated material by the federal government," Jackson replied.
"But you're not saying they are safe. You're playing word games with me. You're not saying, 'They are safe,'" Stahl said.
"You want me to guarantee that…they're absolutely safe," Roewer asked.
"I think everybody…yes, I do," Stahl replied.
"Well, what I can say is the state regulations and the utility management practices are put in place to ensure with a goal of safe management of coal ash," Roewer said.
"I don't think many people really trust the utility industry, I'm sorry to tell you," Stahl remarked.