Two days after Tom Adams accepted the job as the executive director of the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), the Kingston, Tenn., coal ash storage facility failed. “We were in crisis mode from day one,” he says. He notes, however, that the ACAA focus really “is on beneficial use and this was failure of a disposal facility so getting involved with this issue was a bit off our mission.”

Nonetheless, it soon became clear that the containment pond disaster had opened the door for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate fly ash as a hazardous waste, a move that would make it difficult to continue to use ash in concrete. Not only would this be a loss to the concrete industry but it would impose a huge strain on electric power generating companies and hazardous waste facilities across the U.S. For leading the charge to prevent this designation, Adams is one of CC’s 2012 Most Influential People.

Adams began his concrete career in Michigan, where he worked for three different ready-mix producers. “I had the opportunity to become president of the Michigan Concrete Association,” he says, “and that’s how I got involved in trade association work.” He soon took a job at the American Concrete Institute (ACI) in Farmington Hills, Mich. where he was liaison to ACI’s chapters in North America and around the world and executive director of the American Shotcrete Association, which ACI managed.

In 2009, Adams joined ACAA and traveled the country fighting to keep fly ash available for use in concrete. “It took the concrete industry a while to recognize what was at stake,” he says. “But as soon as the EPA started talking about managing ash as a hazardous waste the alarm bell went off. We were able to get all of the stakeholders involved and let them know what the potential threat was.”

The fight goes on. Mostly due to the strong reaction by the concrete industry, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill strengthening fly ash disposal requirements while prohibiting its designation as a hazardous waste. That bill is now stuck in the Senate and Adams is spending a good deal of time in Washington keeping the pressure on to resolve the situation. “We continue to let them know the nature of the materials and the importance to the concrete industry and make sure they understand the threat to our industry and the benefits of supporting this bill.”