Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal

By D. C. Moody -

PICKENS COUNTY — MRR Southern LLC of Raleigh, N.C., has applied for an amendment to a 2007 landfill permit in Pickens County with an eye on the disposal of coal ash in a facility located at S.C. 93 and Cartee Road.

The legislative delegation of Pickens County has sent a letter to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control opposing the permit revision.

What exactly is coal ash?

Based on information available from the Environmental Protection Agency, coal ash — or coal combustible residue (CCR) — is primarily produced as a byproduct of burning coal to produce energy in power plants. The ash comes in a variety of forms including fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag and flue gas desulfurization material.

The byproducts vary in size, with fly ash, the powdery residue, able to be windblown. Fluidized bed combustion ash, cenospheres and scrubber residues are also byproducts of burning coal in power plants.

Some of the byproducts can be reused or recycled but in most cases the waste must be disposed of. The EPA has guidelines that allow for two methods.

In recycling, the byproducts are used to produce concrete or wallboard. With disposal, depending on the type of ash, the process by which it was created and the regulations in place, disposal is either through surface impoundments, landfills or by discharging the byproduct into nearby waterways.

According to the EPA, there were some 110 million tons of coal ash produced in the United States in 2012, the most recent numbers available.

Coal ash has differing degrees of toxicity and according to amended permit requests by MRR Southern LLC, Class 2 would most likely be the byproduct for disposal. Class 2 has a low level of toxicity, based on an approved request to line the facility with the approved material to house the waste.

Until 2008 there were few regulations of the disposal of coal ash until an incident involving the Tennessee Valley Authority in Kingston, Tenn. Further regulation came after a spill in Eden, N.C., from a Duke Power installation. Since 2008 there has been a concerted effort by the EPA to implement safety guidelines. The results of the two spills impacted the environment and local waterways while cleanup continues.

According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, “depending on where the coal was mined, coal ash typically contains heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, as well as aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, boron, chlorine, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, thallium, vanadium, and zinc.”

PSR also went on to state that “the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that living next to a coal ash disposal site can increase your risk of cancer or other diseases. If you live near an unlined wet ash pond (surface impoundment) and you get your drinking water from a well, you may have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking arsenic contaminated water. If eaten, drunk or inhaled, these toxicants can cause cancer and nervous system impacts such as cognitive deficits, developmental delays and behavioral problems. They can also cause heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, birth defects, and impaired bone growth in children.”

By D. C. Moody

Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.

Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.

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