Monday, March 8, 2010

Still waiting on the EPA to classify coal ash

Posted By on Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 12:04 PM

Though I realize coal ash, and the messes it's capable of causing, has only been a hot topic in the media for a little more than a year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has studied the substance for nearly three full decades, trying to determine whether or not coal ash is hazardous waste — all while attempting to dodge aggressive industry lobbyists and their road blocks. The agency's administrator, Lisa Jackson, promised to announce the agency's decision by the end of 2009. Well, Lisa, we're waiting. This crap is still unregulated, yo.

The EPA's ruling is a huge deal for Charlotte. Two of Duke Energy's high-hazard coal ash ponds are on the edge of Mountain Island Lake, just upstream from where Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities sucks 80 percent of our drinking water from, which happens to be our main drinking water reservoir.

No, it won't be cheap to clean up the contaminated groundwater and contain the coal ash, but would you rather see the problem ignored? Ummm. Arsenic. Who doesn't want a little arsenic in their water? Think about that the next time you turn on the tap.

Of course, the companies that own and maintain these ponds could step up, be good corporate citizens, and clean up their mess before the government forces them to ... just sayin'.

Meanwhile, the gripes about coal ash — and what to do with it — are still getting ink.

"I'm really concerned about my health," said retiree James Gibbs, 53, who lives near a west-central Alabama landfill that is taking the ash. "I want to plant a garden. I'm concerned about it getting in the soil." Gibbs said that since last summer there has been a "bad odor, like a natural gas odor."

After the spill, the TVA started sending as many as 17,000 rail carloads of ash almost 350 miles south to the landfill in Uniontown, Ala. At least 160 rail shipments have gone out from the cleanup site, said TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci.

Since the EPA approved that plan, unusually heavy rain — including about 25 inches from November through February — has forced the landfill to deal with up to 100,000 gallons a day of tainted water.

The landfill operators first sent it to wastewater treatment plants — a common way that landfills deal with excess liquid — in two nearby Alabama cities, Marion and Demopolis.

After what the EPA calls unrelated problems with ammonia in Marion, the landfill in January started using a commercial wastewater treatment plant in Mobile, Ala., 500 miles from the original spill.

A month ago, however, after a public outcry about discharging it into Mobile Bay, that company refused to take more of the landfill water.

A private treatment facility in Cartersville, Ga., also briefly took some of the befouled liquid in February, although Georgia environmental officials said Friday the company did not have a required state permit.

Hi-Tech Water Treatment Services stopped accepting wastewater from the Alabama landfill, manager Amalia Cox said, after becoming "concerned about payments and the publicity."

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which is paid $1 for each ton of the coal ash ...

Read the entire Associated Press article, by Bill Poovey, here.

Note: There are two other Duke-owned coal ash ponds in the Charlotte area along the Catawba River, one on Lake Norman and another in Belmont. (Read more about the Catawba Riverkeeper's struggle to protect the river, and us, here.)

Concerned? Contact the EPA and let them know.

This is what happens to a river when the dam holding a coal ash pond in place fails:

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