NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Four years after a massive coal ash spill in East Tennessee, environmental conservation groups have launched an interactive website and map that shows the location and hazard risks for coal ash sites at 100 power plants throughout the Southeast.
The website, www.southeastcoalash.org, is a project of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices, Southern Environmental Law Center and North Carolina Conservation Network.
Since the 2008 spill of 5 million cubic yards of ash into a river about 35 miles west of Knoxville at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil plant, environmentalists have been increasingly sounding an alarm about coal ash, a waste byproduct stored at coal-fired plants, and the possibility of water contamination.
The site lists details on coal ash impoundments for power plants in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The details include the size and location, local maps, nearby waterways and whether the Environmental Protection Agency has rated the risk if the impoundments fail, as the one in Tennessee did.
Ulla Reeves, regional program director for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the main goal of the website is to prompt residents near these sites to urge the EPA to regulate the coal ash as a hazardous waste. Regulations for these coal ash impoundments are currently left up to states, but the spill in Tennessee prompted the EPA to reconsider its rules.
"Four years after the Kingston spill, we still do not have federal regulations for coal ash and what to do with coal ash impoundment," she said Tuesday.
But advocates for recycling the coal ash say coal ash contains a trace amount of heavy metals and minerals and designating it as hazardous would hurt efforts to reuse the material. Fly ash is used in concrete, while gypsum, another byproduct created at coal burning plants, can be used in wall board.
John Ward, of the group Citizens for Recycling First, said he absolutely agrees that putting coal ash in large impoundments is not the best use for the material, but he would rather see Congress enact rules to resolve the uncertainty created by EPA's slow decision making process.
"It's in the environment's best interest to get new disposal regulations in place without that unwarranted hazardous waste disposition," Ward said.
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