Saturday, February 6, 2010
Coal ash disposal becomes burning issue for Alabama
That coal, brought in daily from Wyoming by the trainload, doesn't just disappear in combustion. Each day, Alabama Power collects the 1,200 tons of ash, a residue containing a toxic concoction of arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals.
About 60 percent of that ash is sold and trucked away for use in construction materials, Alabama Power said. The rest is stacked in a vast, terraced landfill or is mixed with water and piped into a 77-acre pond designed to allow the contaminants to sink to the bottom.
Neither landfill nor pond is lined to prevent seepage into the ground.
For decades at the Miller Plant and eight similar sites at coal-fired power plants in Alabama, the process has gone on with little public notice.
But the Dec. 22 collapse of a dike at an ash pond at the
Photo by John L. Wathen
Flight provided by SouthWings
Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant, about 35 miles west of Knoxville, has opened debate on how utilities handle the huge volume of toxin-laden coal ash captured by their power plants' pollution-control devices.
The TVA spill sent more than 1 billion gallons of coal ash cascading through the countryside, wrecking homes, covering streets and burying more than 300 acres in a gray sludge. It spawned worries about potential contamination of drinking water and questions about how to clean up the damage. And it has renewed calls from environmentalists for regulation of ash disposal.
Though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been considering the issue for years, it never has enacted guidelines for dealing with the ash waste, which is packed with health hazards such as arsenic and cadmium, known to cause cancer, and lead and mercury, which can damage the nervous system.