WHEELING - A report released by the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency declares coal ash safe for reuse in certain construction materials - providing coal industry supporters a measure of hope as
the agency prepares to issue its first-ever regulations on the
The EPA has for some time now been considering classifying coal
ash - a byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity - as a hazardous material, citing contaminants such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium. Earlier this month, it announced a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 19 to take action.
Coal ash recently drew attention when 82,000 tons of it spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina earlier this month. Water samples revealed arsenic levels beyond those considered safe for prolonged contact.
According to the EPA, slightly more than half of coal ash - also
called "fly" ash - is disposed of in landfills or surface
impoundments. Much of the rest is recycled for use in everyday
materials such as concrete and wallboard -- and even in small amounts
in cosmetics, toothpaste and a host of other substances.
"EPA's evaluation concluded that the beneficial use of
encapsulated (coal combustion residuals) in concrete and wallboard is
appropriate because they are comparable to virgin materials or below
the agency's health and environmental benchmarks," according to a
statement from the agency.
Preventing the EPA from declaring coal ash, or "fly" ash, a
hazardous substance has been a focus for Rep. David McKinley, R-
W.Va., since he was first elected to Congress in 2010. According to
McKinley, the proposed EPA regulations would make the substance
extremely difficult to dispose of and nearly impossible to sell to
those who would reuse it.
"We applaud this decision by the EPA which will help provide more
certainty for the 316,000 workers directly impacted by coal ash and
its safe disposal and use," McKinley said. "This decision reinforces
the need for Senate to take action and pass a legislative solution now."
The McKinley-authored Coal Residuals and Reuse Management Act of
2013, which passed the GOP-controlled House in July but was never
taken up in the Democrat-controlled Senate, would subject all coal
ash impoundments to a permitting process and require groundwater
monitoring at all structures that receive the material. But it would
allow states to regulate the material themselves -- with the
provision that the EPA could step in if it determines that state
programs are deficient, using a set of objective criteria.
"This gives states the authority to set their own standards for the
disposal of coal ash with oversight by the EPA," McKinley said of the