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Environmental groups sue EPA over coal ash

News | January 19, 2012 | By:

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the goal of speeding new safeguards for coal-ash disposal.

In its lawsuit, the coalition claims the EPA has declined for decades to enact regulations to declare coal ash as hazardous waste or to update testing methods.

If the EPA declares coal ash a hazardous waste, it would lead to new clean-up costs for electric companies that store the byproduct in holding ponds near the power plants.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. The coal-ash holding ponds are largely unregulated, including the use of geosynthetic liners (geomembranes) for safety.

Environmentalists have called for more-strenuous regulations, particularly since a December 2008 disaster when a containment site in Kingston, Tenn., burst open and flooded 300 acres with coal-ash sludge. That impoundment failure resulted in a multi-year cleanup costing more than $1.2 billion.

Another coal-ash spill occurred in 2011 in Oak Creek, Wis., near Milwaukee, where a power company’s containment pond collapsed and the byproduct sludge slid into Lake Michigan.

Ron Bygness is the editor of Geosynthetics magazine

GMA’s position consistent

The position of the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) has been a consistent lobby for the lining of coal-ash containment sites. The use of composite liner systems will achieve the EPA mission to protect human health and the environment.

While coal ash does contain heavy metals, it lacks the traditional characteristics of hazardous materials: radioactivity, or the presence of infectious medical waste.

In the opinion of our trade association, coal ash can be properly stored using “subtitle D” regulations, a non-hazardous solid-waste designation with composite liner systems.

—Andrew Aho, GMA managing director

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