The US Environmental Protection Agency’s chief challenged criticism that a pending coal-waste proposal would damage the building-materials industry, saying Thursday that the waste produced by coal-fired power plants may be safely recycled into products such as cement (reports Dow Jones newswires)
"There seems to be genuine agreement that the use of coal ash in concrete and concrete-like products does not cause a threat to human health and the environment," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in remarks to the Woman’s National Democratic Club. "The threats associated with coal-ash waste are from leaching," she said, "which is not a problem from a concrete perspective."
The Obama administration is walking a fine line as it seeks to regulate coal ash after a December 2008 spill from a Tennessee Valley Authority facility sent about a billion gallons of ash and water over as many as 300 acres. That raised public health fears, since coal ash can contain arsenic, selenium, and other contaminants that can be damaging. The EPA found elevated levels of metals such as arsenic after the spill, though it said that municipal drinking water was safe.
Companies such as Lafarge have reportedly gone to the White House to warn that regulating coal-waste as a hazardous material would create a stigma around reusing the waste for other purposes, even if the EPA decides to exempt coal ash when it is recycled into other products. More than 40% of coal waste is recycled, added to products such as cement and drywall, a practice known as "beneficial reuse." The rest is disposed of in landfills or retention ponds.