Industry Seeks Role in Defining EPA Coal Ash Reuse Risk Analysis

Date: January 10, 2012

Source: American Coal Ash Association

INDUSTRY SEEKS ROLE IN SHAPING EPA RISK ASSESSMENT OF COAL ASH REUSE 1025 words 10 January 2012 Risk Policy Report ICHEM Vol. 19, No. 2 English Copyright 2012, Inside Washington Publishers. All rights reserved. Also available in print only. The American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), representing companies that reuse ash in products such as cement, is pushing EPA to accept its input on the framework of its pending risk study on ash reuse that will inform the agency's long-stalled Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) final rule on coal waste disposal. Among other things, the industry group is urging EPA to assess the risks of ash use in products as well as any alternative ingredients that may replace the ash should manufacturers choose to do so. Such an assessment could provide industry with a means of comparing the two ingredients' relative risks. ACCA met with EPA waste chief Mathy Stanislaus Jan. 3 to discuss its the pending risk study. The group had expressed earlier concerns that the risk assessment could further delay the final RCRA rule, which industry says is already harming the reuse industry. EPA in June 2010 proposed regulating coal ash as hazardous waste subject to strict controls under RCRA subtitle C, or as solid waste under subtitle D, which would give states primary oversight of ash disposal. The agency has yet to send the final rule to the White House for review. Last month EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that the agency is aiming for late 2012 to issue a first-time analysis on the potential health risks from reuse of ash in products, a study long sought by proponents of strong ash controls that could also inform the agency's final coal ash disposal rule. ACCA and other coal ash reuse proponents are also pressing Congress to bar EPA from regulating the waste as hazardous over concerns such a designation would devastate the ash recycling industry by giving coal ash a "stigma" as a hazardous substance. But environmentalists are stepping up pressure on EPA to finalize the rule, including releasing a Jan. 5 report showing that coal ash toxic releases are increasing in the absence of a waste regulation. ACAA met with Stanislaus to seek "clarification" of Jackson's comments announcing the agency's intent to study risks from beneficial reuse. "EPA is undertaking this evaluation in response to the [EPA] Inspector General's [IG] report which was critical of the agency's support for beneficial use without undertaking its own assessment," a source with the group says. EPA told its IG in June that it would roll an assessment of beneficial reuse into its coal ash disposal rule, despite a March IG report that recommended the agency separately evaluate the risks of ash reuse. Relevant documents are available on InsideEPA.com. (Doc ID: 2386469) At the meeting this week, EPA officials said the framework for the reuse risk assessment is "under construction and should be completed by sometime in April," the ACAA source says. The source adds that the agency has indicated it intends to begin by assessing encapsulated uses of coal ash and then move onto unencapsulated uses. The group quickly requested a meeting with Stanislaus after learning of Jackson's announcement last month, the source adds. The source says ACAA officials at the meeting told Stanislaus that methods for ensuring that EPA conducts the study fairly, including "that the samples selected for testing are truly representative of a market reality and that the testing includes competitive products. For example, if fly ash use in concrete is being studied, the study should include materials that would be used in lieu of fly ash, such as Portland cement, slag cement" and others. Additionally, a source with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) -- which has long pressed EPA to regulate beneficial use -- says the group intends to provide input to EPA on how to structure the study. The group's main concern is that the risk assessment "reflect actual conditions. So for example, encapsulated waste is released over time, so if you are not looking at how the material becomes degraded or abraded you may not capture the actual risks." Additionally, PEER will press EPA to address end-of-life issues. For example, if ash is used in concrete, PEER wants EPA to study what happens when that concrete is broken apart, the source says. Meanwhile, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) in its Jan. 5 report finds that dumping of coal ash continues to rise in the absence of the EPA RCRA rule, which was prompted by a massive coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plant in late 2008. "Three years after the coal ash spill in Kingston, TN, the United States has not yet established standards to curb the threat to public health and waterways posed by unstable or leaking ash ponds at coal-fired power plants," the group says in a statement accompanying its report, adding that the volume of toxic metals in the dumped ash rose 9 percent in 2010 according to its analysis of the most recent data available. "EPA proposed in June of 2010 to require the closure of surface impoundments within five years," EIP's report says. "If the agency manages to issue a final rule before then end of 2012, that ban would take effect at the end of 2017, a full nine years after the TVA spill. In view of the hazards these ash ponds present, that seems long enough." In a related matter, 48 Alabama residents have filed a civil rights complaint with EPA alleging that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) discriminated against them for allowing a landfill near their homes to accept coal ash from the TVA spill. The Jan. 3 complaint, filed with EPA's Office of Civil Rights, alleges that residents have endured offensive odors, respiratory problems, fugitive dust, increased noise and decreased property values. "The adverse impacts described above have fallen and continue to fall disparately upon members of the African-American race," the complaint says, adding the impacted census block is 87 to 100 percent African-American. The complaint also argues that ADEM has the responsibility to avoid unintentional discrimination and asks EPA to terminate the millions of dollars in funding it awards to ADEM. -- Dawn Reeves