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Farmers Encouraged To Spread Toxic Coal Ash On Fields

with 4 comments

Beth Buczynski Care2

Despite what coal industry executives and opponents of renewable energy research would have you believe, America is running out of this filthy, costly, fossil fuel- and not a moment too soon.

Businessweek Magazine recently reported that “the federal government is encouraging farmers to spread a chalky waste from coal-fired power plants on their fields to loosen and fertilize soil even as it considers regulating coal wastes for the first time.”

Just over a year ago, an enormous coal ash spill took place at Tennessee’s Kingston TVA Coal Plant, spewing 525 million to 1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge (enough to cover 400 acres in coal ash about 6 feet deep) into the Emory River, potentially contaminating the water supply for Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

With clean up efforts STILL underway for the TVA spill, which the EPA called “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history,” both the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture are now brazenly promoting what they call the wastes’ “beneficial uses” in an effort to deal with the excessive ash piling up around the nation’s coal-fired plants.

The waste material is produced by power plant “scrubbers” that remove acid rain causing sulfur dioxide from plant emissions. A synthetic form of the mineral gypsum, it also contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other heavy metals, reports Businesweek.

Although the EPA and USDA claim that these toxic metals are only found in trace amounts in the coal ash, environmentalists are shocked that they would take such a gamble with farmer’s crops and the nation’s food supply.

“Basically this is a leap into the unknown,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “This stuff has materials in it that we’re trying to prevent entering the environment from coal-fired power plants and then to turn around and smear it across ag lands raises some real questions.”

With cleanup costs of the Tennessee spill expected to clear $1 billion before they are completed in 2013, it seems suspect that these federal agencies would be willing to inflict the presence of coal ash on these delicate lands without knowing more about how it could potentially affect both the quality of the food and the water supply.

The Businessweek article also noted that “since the EPA/USDA partnership began in 2001, farmers’ use of the material [FGD gypsum] has more than tripled, from about 78,000 tons spread on fields in 2002 to nearly 279,000 tons last year, according to the American Coal Ash Association, a utility industry group.

The EPA is expected to announce its proposals for regulation early next year, setting the first federal standards for storage and disposal of coal wastes.

TAKE ACTION by signing the Adopt the Clean Slate Agenda – Because “Clean Coal” is a Myth petition on Care2.

4 Responses

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  1. Oh yes, I worked at a coal fired power plant in Pennsylvania about ten years ago. Our main fuel source was “Gob” or waste coal that is the refuse from mining activities and basically worthless to the mine owners. Anyone living in central PA has seen them, tall black piles of what appears to be dirt, often higher than the surrounding town buildings.
    The CFB, (circulating fluidized boiler) advent presented an opportunity to rid the valley’s of the mining towns of the waste, since that boiler design worked well with the low BTU fuel.
    The scrubber limestone along with the large ash content created huge amounts of waste from this operation that was convienently placed back where the Gob was originally laying for the past 70 years or so. So the plan was to burn the waste coal (Gob) and replace or mitigate the site with the ash which contains the heavy metals etc etc, add a layer of topsoil, some trees and grass, and problem solved!
    The small towns plagued with the eyesore were happy, local unemployed miners were happy to find work, all was good.
    This went on until the site was fully mitigated, it took nearly a decade. Now that is heap of ash, but it sure does look pretty!


    December 26, 2009 at 11:52 am

    • I shudder to think about the toxicity of the ground water, or the general exposure to heavy metals of the people living in these towns……..

      Found info about a 2007 study http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/385687/coal_waste_pollutes_pennsylvania_groundwater.html?cat=5
      which says: “The study, “Impacts on Water Quality from Placement of Coal Combustion Waste in Pennsylvania Coal Mines,” found that groundwater and streams near 10 of 15 mines where coal ash waste had been disposed had unhealthy levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, selenium and other contaminants.” Wonder if any real changes have happened since then?


      December 26, 2009 at 3:22 pm

  2. Thanks for the link. Yes, I hear you on that, the populations of these areas I’m familiar with are hard working, devout, and most of all appreciative of good fortune like the rest of our species I suppose.
    The obvious problem with acid mine runoff in the area was generally the selling point when these plants went in. In all, I know of about a dozen or so of these CFB’s scattered across central PA from Mt. Carmel to Ebensburg.
    The problem is world wide though and brings my thoughts back to Wendell Berry. These mountains of tailings from century’s of mining leave a legacy of abandoned towns, a scattered people, health concerns, and a spoiling of the natural beauty generally.
    In Florida were I now live, a drive across the state from Tampa to Melbourne exhibits some of the highest “mountains” in the state. These “Gyp Stacks” are visable for miles. From atop Bok Tower in Lake Wales, they dot the horizon. All waste from the phospate industry which boomed early in the 20th century.
    These are just two examples that should make Wendell case, the mountop coal removal of today will present similiar problems for those who will follow us.
    The urgency to address climate issues was revealed at Copenhagen, the pillage continues as the third world seeks modernization and markets. I guess small groups of thoughtful people must press forward, with a tip of the hat to Margret Mead.


    December 27, 2009 at 12:11 am

  3. All these are evidence of the scam corporations use to disguise costs and pretend their products are offered at a true price. Real costs are pushed off on the public now and in future generations, while they syphon off profit.


    December 27, 2009 at 9:31 am

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