EPA proposes ash-dumping regulations

Ash levels are low in Columbia because its ash is resold.

The Environmental Protection Agency began a series of hearings across the United States on Monday to hear the public thoughts on two proposals to regulate toxic ash from burned coal, just days after environmental groups expanded on a report detailing widespread water contamination caused by the ash.

Drinking water contamination has not been a major problem in Columbia, according to Utility Services Specialist Connie Kacprowicz. She said the city's power plant is miles away from the city's drinking water supply and Columbia’s water treatment plant.

However, according to Patricia Schuba, a member of the Labadie Environmental Organization, the problem of coal ash contamination is far greater in the St. Louis area.

“We have two large coal ash waste impoundments, in operation for decades, one unlined and one known to be leaking,” Schuba said in a press release last week.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club released a report last week, entitled “In Harm’s Way,” which talked about the scope of the contamination.

The report released findings showing widespread contamination of water supplies as a result of nearby toxic ash ponds. Tests of water supplies near these ponds showed contamination with lead, arsenic and toxin-heavy metals was above acceptable standards for safe consumption.

According to Kacprowicz, no waste ash from Columbia's power plant is dumped in a landfill or pond. “We actually don't have any leftover,” she said. “It's very popular.”

The ash can serve several purposes after leaving the power plant, such as a fertilizer or a landfill liner. Kacprowicz said the city of Columbia used to purchase all the power plant's waste ash to spread on streets during the winter to help cars grip the road better. She said the city has decided to stop the practice but the power plant will still be able to sell it to other buyers on a waiting list.

“There are a number of people that want it,” Kacprowicz said.

The MU power plant does not keep any of its waste coal ash, either.

“MU’s contract with our coal supplier includes the return of MU’s coal ash to the mines in Illinois,” MU Campus Facilities spokeswoman Karlan Seville said in an e-mail.

In the 2009 water quality report conducted on Columbia's drinking water, only nine of the 83 substances tested for were found and none of these exceeded the maximum acceptable levels, according to the city's website.

“If you look at the things that we test for, it’s an amazing amount of things that we test for that aren’t detected in our water system,” Kacprowicz said.

The EPA is considering two proposals to regulate the disposal of coal ash. One, which Schuba said environmental groups support, would require groundwater testing, liners protecting the environment from the coal ash and would “effectively phase out use of new surface impoundments,” according to the EPA's website. The federal and state governments would enforce all these requirements.

The alternative, called Subtitle D, would have some of the same requirements but they would be less strict and coal companies and power plants would self-regulate ash disposal. Schuba said federal funding should be used to find the best possible application for the waste coal ash.

“The subtitle D, which is what industry is lobbying for, is basically to keep it the same,” she said. “I think the best option, currently, is to set up criteria for the best possible safe landfilling (sic) of the material.”

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