Tim Gregorski, Editor in Chief
8725 W. Higgins Road, Suite 600
Chicago, IL 60631
Dear Mr. Gregorski,
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently is considering regulation of the disposal of coal combustion products (CCPs), including fly ash, as "hazardous wastes." Following the spill of nearly 5.5 million cubic yards (1 billion gallons) of coal ash at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston, Tenn., plant on Dec. 22, 2008, the agency has been under pressure from Congress and environmental advocacy groups to look beyond the cause of the spill "a failure of containment" to include review of the material itself. Fortunately, no serious injuries or deaths resulted from the spill. Some of the ash ended up in the Emory River. Media coverage has been consistently littered with descriptions of the material as "hazardous" or "toxic" even though there is no evidence to support the use of these terms. Though some damage to the environment and wildlife did occur, it stands to reason that if 1 billion gallons of any substance, even milk, is released into a river there would be danger to wildlife. Testing to date has consistently shown that this damage is neither permanent nor a threat to public health and safety. As expected, law firms, led by Erin Brockovich, investigated the area immediately following the spill to convince local residents of the dangers and hazards they have endured living in proximity to the Kingston plant.
Why should this matter to the readers of Concrete Construction? If EPA elects to regulate disposal of fly ash as a hazardous waste, the stigma attached to the material used in construction projects would cause the beneficial use of fly ash to improve concrete strength and durability will come to a rapid halt. Fly ash has been an important ingredient in concrete for many decades. Not only has fly ash been important to the manufacture of high-performance concrete, it has helped improved durability by reducing permeability and mitigating alkali silica reactions.
In our discussions with specifiers and concrete producers, the threat of litigation resulting from the inclusion of a hazardous waste in a project is sufficient to eliminate ash use. As demonstrated in the "sulfate wars" in Southern California in recent years, lawyers will use "potential" damage as a basis to file suits and squeeze settlements from defendants who may not have the financial ability to litigate cases to a full conclusion.
In addition to litigation concerns, producers would be required to handle fly ash as a hazardous waste until the material actually was batched into a concrete mixer. This would require special training for personnel and special personal protection equipment.
It is not clear if utility companies would even allow fly ash into the marketplace for fear of litigation if the hazardous ruling is made. In addition, there would be significant impacts on contracts between utility companies and ash marketing companies.
There are many additional negative impacts of a hazardous determination beyond the uses in cement and concrete. On July 24, 2009, a delegation of end users made presentations to Mathy Stanislaus, EPA assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response. It was made clear that beneficial uses in cement and concrete, wallboard manufacture, agriculture, and geotechnical applications would be seriously crippled if not destroyed by such as ruling.
Those who are interested in seeing concrete continue to contribute to sustainable construction practice should take notice of this situation. The EPA intends to publish a regulation in the Federal Register in December. If you are concerned, it is not too late to let the EPA and congress know.
Thomas H. Adams
American Coal Ash Association
15200 E. Girard Ave., Suite 3050
Aurora, CO 80014