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Coal ash: A big unknown

Lodestar Energy, a mining company, is putting coal ash in Stratton Branch, a hollow near Ivel, Ky. The landfill begins on the left and is being extended into the valley. The company used a protective liner for the first stage of dumping but has placed ash directly on the ground in the second stage, raising concerns about groundwater contamination.


Some fear toxic threat in power plant waste The Courier-Journal

USES: Coal



Dave Sehorn, left, of Pines, Ind., reacted as he was told by Kenneth Theisen of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that drinking-water wells in the area are polluted. Theisen believes heavy metals in coal ash buried in a landfill and used as construction fill are to blame. Resident Jan Nona said communities need to be vigilant about where coal combustion waste goes. ‘‘If someone thinks ash can’t cause problems, I’ve got a bridge to sell them in San Francisco.’’

The nation’s coal-fired power plants are producing mountains of ash — more than 100 million tons annually, fueling a debate over the environmental threat it poses. A byproduct of burned coal, coal ash is sometimes converted for use in products such as wallboard and cement, but 70 percent ends up in landfills, settling ponds and old strip mines. Across the country, just one year’s worth of ash, placed on a football field, would extend 11.1 miles high. And while the energy industry has long argued that the material is benign, with coal undergoing a national resurgence, environmental leaders are questioning anew the extent to which coal ash and the traces of potentially toxic heavy metals contained in it threaten groundwater supplies, streams, rivers, lakes and aquatic life. ‘‘The regulation of coal ash is haphazard at best,’’ said Jeffrey Stant, an Indiana consultant to the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force — a nonprofit advocacy group — and a leading national critic of how power companies manage their ash. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ‘‘has been asleep at the switch. The fact is, (pollution from ash) is getting to people,

and it’s been causing great impacts to aquatic systems,’’ Stant said. The issue of regulation is drawing increasing attention as power companies propose a new generation of coal-fired plants, urged on by the Bush administration’s national energy strategy. There are proposals for eight new coal plants in Kentucky and two in Indiana. With those plants, the two states are bracing for more ash — 6 million additional tons yearly in Kentucky alone, or about as much as Indiana produces now. At the same time, regulations that govern how power companies manage combustion waste are inconsistent — and in some cases are all but non existent. Thirty families in the Northern Indiana town of Pines understand what’s at stake. An EPA emergency response team, led by on-site coordinator Kenneth Theisen, told them this summer that their private drinking-water wells are ruined — 15 years after government scientists first suggested that a nearby ash landfill might be spreading pollution. Theisen said he believes a toxic plume of heavy metals from power plant ash, buried in the landfill and scattered around town as construction fill, is the likely culprit. EPA See ASH Page 23, col. 1, this section

ash is used in products ranging from wallboard to construction fill to cement.

Under one arrangement, coal was shipped to Florida plants and the waste ash sent back to Kentucky.
Page A18 RISKS:

Technology has reduced the air pollution from burning coal, but some wonder if the danger has only shifted.
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E. Kentucky company able to dump ash beyond protective liner The Courier-Journal


IVEL, Ky. — The order was simple enough. An Eastern Kentucky mining company constructing an ash landfill in 1993 in a mountain hollow near Ivel in Floyd County was required by the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet to install a synthetic liner. The result of a legal challenge from local residents, the liner was intended to prevent contaminants in the ash from getting into the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, which supplies drinking water to Pikeville in neighboring Pike County. Costain Coal, now operating as Lodestar Energy, installed the liner in Stratton Branch hollow and piled ash on it during the first stage of its dumping. But when it ran out of room and moved into the second stage, the company placed ash directly on bare ground farther up the hollow. State regulators did nothing to stop the dumping of ash beyond the liner because the original order only covered the first stage, said George F. Gilbert, a high-ranking environmental engineer in the cabinet. That order, through the cabinet’s Office of Administrative Hearings, required that the liner extend only so far up the hollow, Gilbert said. It was signed by representatives of local residents, the cabinet and the company, although never written into the company’s separate waste management permit. ‘‘I assumed all parties knew that only the

bottom part would get a liner,’’ Gilbert said, adding that a liner higher up wasn’t needed. ‘‘The higher up you get, you have more soil between the bottom of the ash and the top of the groundwater.’’ Any pollutants from the ash ‘‘in theory’’ would be filtered by the dirt before they got to the groundwater, he said. ‘‘The state’s position is absurd,’’ countered lawyer Tom FitzGerald, director of the environmental group Kentucky Resources Council, who, along with attorney Michael deBourbon of Pikeville, helped negotiate the order. The state should have forced the company to extend the liner, FitzGerald said. ‘‘Our assumption was that liner would be extended if the facility was expanded,’’ FitzGerald said. At the very least, state officials could have informed the Kentucky Resources Council or deBourbon of the situation so local residents could have had a chance to request a liner for the dump’s second phase, FitzGerald said. Records on file in Frankfort show that state officials are coming around to FitzGerald’s position that a liner is needed for the entire landfill. In July 2001, Lodestar applied for a permit to extend the life of the ash landfill to 40 years from about 12 years. It intends to dump a total of 14.7 million cubic yards of ash on 71 acres, piled 600 feet high at its deepest point. The state intends to require the company to install a liner under all ash that will be dumped after the permit is approved, said Mark York, spokesman for the cabinet. In the past decade, there’s been a growing

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awareness that ash landfills can cause groundwater pollution problems, Gilbert said, adding that he’s not aware of such a problem at the Ivel fill. The plan will leave some ash in direct contact with the ground. The state doesn’t know how much ash rests on bare earth, Gilbert said, because the company’s permit did not require such accounting. Groundwater monitors around the landfill will be able to detect pollution if it occurs, York said. No decision will be made on Lodestar’s proposed landfill expansion until the Pikevillebased company, which is operating under

Bill Justice, a Lodestar Energy engineer, stood atop coal ash at a landfill in Ivel, Ky., that the company plans to expand. ‘‘We’ve been here eight years, and no problems,’’ he said. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, has found a replacement for $3.4 million in environmental performance bonds that the state considered at risk of default, York said. Lodestar is working to secure the new bonds as part of its reorganization, said Mike Francisco, a Lodestar vice president. The landfill expansion will be engineered to minimize any potential effect from the ash


that’s on bare ground, said Bill Justice, an engineer with Lodestar. But Justice said that neither the original liner nor the planned new one, to be constructed at a cost of $20 million, are needed because the ash is environmentally benign. ‘‘We’ve been here eight years, and no problems,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t expect that to change.’’



Coal ash turns up in growing range of products The Courier-Journal


At two new factories in Northern Kentucky, workers turn what was once waste from air pollution scrubbers into wallboard for home and business construction. Lafarge Gypsum and BBP Celotex have added roughly 500 jobs while keeping more than 1.3 million tons of coal combustion waste out of landfills and settling ponds each year. The wallboard plants — one in Silver Grove and the other in Carrollton — illustrate the trend in the electric generating industry: finding more ways to put ash and scrubber sludge to beneficial uses. ‘‘Coal can be part of sustainable development in this country,’’ said James C. Hower, a scientist at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research and editor in chief of the International Journal of Coal Geology. ‘‘There is so much that can be done with these byproducts.’’ Nationally, 30 percent of roughly 100 million tons of coal combustion waste annually is put to so-called ‘‘beneficial reuse’’ — practices that commonly carry broad exemptions from environmental regulations. The amount of ash reused is increasing by about 3 percent a year, said David C. Goss, president of the American Coal Ash Association. Indiana reuses about 29 percent of the ash it generates; Kentucky, 13 percent. Products include insulating glass beads incorporated into heat shields of the space shuttles, an ingredient in cement, and a substitute for dirt and gravel fill at construction sites. While some reuse practices can be controversial — such as unscrutinized use of ash as construction fill — there’s broad support for methods that ensure the environment won’t be harmed. ‘‘There are, in fact, legitimate beneficial uses of coal ash,’’ said longtime coal industry watchdog Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental group. ‘‘The question is always, ‘Are you managing the material in a way that pollutants of concern will not migrate into the environment?’ ’’ He cited one especially good example of the use of fly ash: as an ingredient in Portland cement, a practice researched at the UK energy research center. The practice is employed by Jefferson County’s Cosmos Cement Co., which uses ash from LG&E Energy’s nearby Mill Creek generating station. The benefits could be significant, said Tom Robl, associate director of the UK energy research center. In Kentucky, for example, ash substitutes for about 18 percent of cement, the binding agent in concrete. While coal-fired power plants are major sources of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, blamed in part for global warming, their ash can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions released from cement kilns, Robl said. The kilns release a ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of cement that’s made. ‘‘If we took all the concrete in the whole world,’’ Robl said, ‘‘and we increased the substitution rate of fly ash for Portland cement to a level of 50 percent, we would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases by 750 million tons, which would represent 25 percent of the emissions of all autos in the world.’’ The wallboard plants benefit from changes that LG&E Energy and Cinergy have made to some smokestack scrubbers that use ground-up limestone to remove sulfur dioxide — a component of acid rain. While older scrubbers produce an unusable waste product of calcium sulfite and calcium sulfate, the newer pollution control devices produce only calcium sulfate. With refining at their power plants, the companies can turn calcium sulfate into a high-grade synthetic gypsum. Four of LG&E Energy’s Kentucky plants are producing gypsum — some sent to Carrollton, and some shipped by barge to New Orleans.

Struc. fill 3.2% Cement 1.2% Gypsum 7.3% Pond 32.1% Blasting grit/ roof granules 4.8% Other 0.4%

Landfill 51%

Blasting grit/ roof granules 2.1% Waste stabilization 1.9% Struc. fill 4.2% Cement 10.5% Gypsum 3.1% Ash (road base) 2% Anti-skid material 1% Other 4.9%

Tom Robl, associate director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, discussed the properties of coal ash, which he says has beneficial uses. ‘‘If we took all the concrete in the whole world,’’ Robl said, ‘‘and we increased the substitution rate of fly ash for Portland cement to a level of 50 percent, we would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases by 750 million tons.’’ ‘‘We are the feedstock for them,’’ said Caryl Pfeiffer, environmental affairs director for LG&E. ‘‘It means the avoidance of (gypsum) mining.’’ The Wm. H. Zimmer Generating Station, located in Ohio near Cincinnati and owned by Cinergy and two other companies, supplies the Silver Grove wallboard manufacturing facility in Campbell County. At LG&E’s Mill Creek generating station in Jefferson County, ash from the bottom of the plant’s boilers is screened, sorted and tested for pollution potential. The Metropolitan Sewer District then uses it under and around new sewer lines. ‘‘It’s not just Uncle Phil driving up in a truck and loading this stuff in,’’ Robl said. At LG&E-owned Western Kentucky Energy’s Coleman Power Station in Hawesville, UK is testing a technology to turn ash in the plant’s rapidly filling settling ponds back into energy and other products. Pond ash is excavated. The smallest particles of carbon are separated and reburned with coal. Larger particles can be used for other purposes, including as an absorbent material for environmental cleanups. The technology holds promise that settling ponds and landfills across the country, which together hold more than 1.5 billion tons of coal plant waste, could someday be tapped for useful products, Robl said. UK scientists have also helped to put the cinder back in cinder blocks. Air pollution controls in the 1970s and 1980s left too much carbon in bottom ash for the material to be used in cinder blocks. So the industry changed to blocks of concrete. In recent years, the UK center has worked with Chara Environmental of Madisonville to develop ways to remove the carbon economically. Chara now markets a line of products made from coal combustion wastes. More ash isn’t reused for a variety of reasons. Air pollution regulations have prompted changes in how coal is burned, resulting in more impurities in ash that make the material harder to convert into commercial products. And some companies are concerned about the potential liability of turning waste into commercial projects, said Jim Roewer, executive director of the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, a consortium of utility operating companies. Further, it has been too easy to dispose of ash in landfills, ponds or old mines, said Jeffrey Stant, an Indiana consultant to the Boston-based Clean


Pond 21.6%

Landfill 48.7%


State 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Texas Ohio Kentucky Pennsylvania Indiana West Virginia Oklahoma New Mexico North Carolina Florida Tons 10.1 9.2 7.4 6.5 5.9 5.7 4.3 3.9 3.9 3.5

Caryl Pfeiffer, environmental affairs director for LG&E Energy, said four LG&E power plants in Kentucky use coal ash to produce gypsum. Air Task Force — a nonprofit advocacy group — and a critic of how power companies manage their ash. ‘‘There is simply no financial incentive to recycle.’’ Kentucky lags behind other states in putting coal combustion waste to other uses, in part because many of its power plants are remote, raising transportation costs of ash, experts said. ‘‘Sometimes it’s more efficient to landfill or dispose of the material,’’ acknowledged Goss, of the coal ash association.

*Coal-fired plants operated by regulated utilities only. Other coal ash is produced by merchant plants and industrial boilers.

Jack Groppo of UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research held a construction block made with coal cinders. The center worked on finding economical methods to remove carbon from the ash so that it could be used in the blocks.


Coal shipped to Florida power plants; waste ash returned to Kentucky The Courier-Journal


When Florida residents a decade ago strongly objected to the prospect of two coal-fired power plants depositing waste ash locally, public officials listened. They required that the ash be shipped back to the Kentucky mining company producing the coal as a requirement of the power plant construction permits. Lodestar Energy, of Pikeville, Ky., agreed to take the waste ash back and now puts it in a mountain hollow it owns. This arrangement with Florida power provider PG&E National Energy Group is unique in Kentucky and, according to some, potentially troubling.

Coalfield residents that bear the environmental brunt of mining are taking a second hit from ash disposal, said Jerry Hardt, spokesman for Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, an environmental group. ‘‘If it (ash) is such a benign substance, as we are led to believe,’’ Hardt said, ‘‘why don’t they keep it in Florida and use it there?’’ PG&E has been assured that the ash is being disposed of in an environmentally responsible way, said Lisa Franklin, spokeswoman for the company. The arrangement had nothing to do with any differences in environmental laws between the states, she said. Florida environmentalists say, in fact, that their state’s ash-disposal regulations are among the most lax in the country. ‘‘It was a matter of the counties

not wanting the coal ash. They wanted it sent back to the mine to be used for reclamation,’’ Franklin said. As it turns out, the mining company doesn’t use the ash for reclamation. Here’s what happens: Coal mined from Lodestar’s Kentucky strip mines is shipped by rail to a power plant at Indiantown in south Florida. Rail cars returning to Kentucky for more coal bring back the ash, where it has been filling up the Stratton Branch hollow for the past eight years. Until last year, before Lodestar obtained bankruptcy protection and canceled one of its contracts, the company also sent coal to a PG&E plant in Jacksonville, Fla., and accepted its ash. The coal company offered to accept the ash as a way to secure long-

term contracts with the power provider, said Bill Justice, a Lodestar engineer. He said it gave the company a marketing edge over other sources of coal and has helped the company employ 200 people in the region. When residents near Ivel, Ky., opposed the landfill in the early 1990s, they weren’t upset that the ash came from out of state, said attorney Michael deBourbon of Pikeville, who represented them. They were worried about their water supply in the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, he said. The landfill has not harmed the environment, and the coal jobs have been good for the region, said Mike Francisco, vice president of Lodestar. Too often the coal industry is wrongly portrayed negatively, he said.

Coal from Lodestar Energy’s Ivel, Ky., site is being shipped to a power plant in Florida. The waste ash is then sent back to Kentucky.



Coal-fired power plants dispose of ash and other combustion wastes in settling ponds and landfills, and sometimes by sending it to old strip mines.


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Source: Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet




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‘‘Agencies that are supposed to protect the public interest didn’t,’’ said Phyllis DaMota, whose well water in Pines, Ind., was ruled unsafe to drink. Her home is within sight of a landfill where tests have found high levels of boron, which can be toxic. The Environmental Protection Agency is supplying her with bottled water.

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Big Sandy River

Ash from coal-fired plants under increasing scrutiny
Continued from Page A17 tests at some homes near the landfill have revealed boron levels 13 times higher than the agency uses to decide whether federal money can be tapped for remediation. High doses of boron can damage the stomach, liver, kidneys and brain, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. When water was tested from a ditch that flows next to the landfill, it showed considerably higher levels of pollutants than water tested upstream from the landfill, he said. ‘‘A coincidence? I don’t think so,’’ Theisen said. The company that owns the landfill, Brown Inc. of Michigan City, declined to comment for this story. Regina D. Biddings, a spokeswoman for the NIPSCO power plant that sent ash to the landfill, said her company was cooperating with the EPA team. ‘‘If the landfill is contributing to the community’s groundwater problem, the company will work with the landfill operator, the community and state and federal agencies to find the best resolution,’’ Biddings said. The state of Indiana earlier this year proposed placing contaminated sections of the town on the nation’s Superfund list of most toxic places. ‘‘I’m upset about the whole situation,’’ said teacher Phyllis DaMota, who can easily see the privately owned landfill from her front yard and whose well water was the first to be deemed unsafe to drink. ‘‘Agencies that are supposed to protect the public interest didn’t.’’ Activist Jan Nona, a retired steel mill secretary, said the lesson of her town of 790 people is that communities need to be vigilant about where coal combustion waste goes and how it’s monitored. ‘‘If someone thinks ash can’t cause problems, I’ve got a bridge to sell them in San Francisco.’’ The EPA two years ago stopped short of declaring coal ash a hazardous waste. The agency is developing disposal standards that are scheduled to be released in early 2004. The regulators’ task won’t be easy, though. Despite the situation in Pines, there remains a contentious debate over the threat posed by coal ash. Industry leaders describe coal combustion waste as environmentally benign or nearly so. ‘‘There are some very legitimate concerns in certain situations, but generally there should not be concern for heavy metals (washing) out of coal ash,’’ said Bill Caylor, executive director of the Kentucky Coal Association. ‘‘This public fear of heavy metals is blown out of proportion.’’ However, the critics are moving at least some in government to suggest that coal ash needs to be treated with more caution. ‘‘Even though certain regulations are on the books, are they protective?’’ asked Bob Logan, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection. ‘‘We have always had a question. Is this material what it’s supposed to be?’’

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Where’s the harm?
Typically, power plants put their ash in landfills or settling ponds. Industry officials say this is designed to keep pollution from getting into the environment. At Cinergy’s Gallagher plant in New Albany, Ind., for example, company environmental managers point visitors to an egret that is fishing in one of two ash ponds, and say the ponds, which drain into the Ohio River after ash has settled to the bottom, are coexisting well with nature. ‘‘We’re monitoring so many of these facilities, and they’re showing no impact,’’ said R. James Meiers, coal combustion waste expert for Cinergy Power Generation Services. Some scientists back the industry’s assertions. ‘‘You get the impression we are drowning in the stuff,’’ said Tom

Robl, associate director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, which works closely with industry. ‘‘No, we are not, and is the material hazardous? Not really.’’ However, environmentalists and other scientists — typically biologists or ecologists — point to a variety of sites where ash has been blamed for polluting water and in some cases harming aquatic life. With two other researchers, William Hopkins of the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab recently completed a survey of more than 300 reports on ash ponds and animal toxicity for the EPA. According to Hopkins, ash-settling ponds can be problematic for indigenous aquatic organisms and those that use these sites seasonally. ‘‘By building these large contaminated wetlands, power plants are actually attracting wildlife away from surrounding uncontaminated sites,’’ he said. Coal combustion waste refers to several kinds of ash and other materials, including cinders, slag and bottom ash collected at the bottom of the boilers; fly ash collected from flue gases; and sludge from scrubbers designed to remove sulfur dioxide — a cause of acid rain — from air emissions. The environmental questions arise from other natural elements in ash — small amounts of heavy metals or metal-like substances, such as boron, selenium, arsenic and manganese. The effects of ash may be subtle or drastic, from changes in blood chemistry to birth defects to death, Hopkins said. Most of the evidence of harm to wildlife came from eight power plant sites in such states as North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, Hopkins said. None of the studied sites were in Kentucky or Indiana. An internal EPA document from March 2000 concluded there were 11 cases of proven water pollution from coal waste in the United States — with none in Kentucky or Indiana. Environmental groups and scientists hired by them as consultants maintain there are dozens more cases, including several in Indiana. Much of the problem involves older landfills or ponds, where ash has been exposed to water for many years, said Donald S. Cherry, a professor of aquatic ecotoxicology at Virginia Tech University, who conducted research for the Indianapolis-based Hoosier Environmental Council. ‘‘The longer the fill sits there through time, there will be seepage down-gradient,’’ Cherry said. ‘‘It’s just a matter of time.’’


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Research on tadpole development in coal ash ponds at the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory has linked deformities with heavy metals in the water.



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States set own rules
For 25 years, the EPA has exempted coal ash from its ‘‘hazardous waste’’ definition. This decision, which it ‘‘tentatively’’ reaffirmed two years ago, exempts the ash from more restrictive and expensive disposal methods, including detailed tracking of waste shipments, special liners and long-term pollution monitoring. The absence of federal regulations leaves each state to set its own rules for disposal. The result is a regulatory

hodgepodge, even within states. Consider that Kentucky — which now says that new ash or scrubber sludge landfills most likely will need state-of-the-art plastic liners, water collection systems, and pollution monitoring wells — permits power companies to put ash in ponds with no plastic liners and has no requirement for groundwater monitoring near or beneath the empoundments. Kentucky does require power plants to test the effluent from ash ponds for toxicity to fish. Indiana does not. Randy Bird, project consultant for Lexington-based EnviroPower, disagreed that the liner for the company’s Kentucky Mountain Power plant in Knott County was necessary. ‘‘We agreed to line it just to expedite our permitting process. We didn’t feel like we wanted to fight the battle.’’ Kentucky also prohibits the placement of ash in strip mine pits within four feet of the water table — a law that has virtually prevented the practice. But it’s a different story in Indiana, where filling mines with ash has raised the hackles of environmentalists and some residents since the state authorized the practice in 1988. The ash can be dumped by itself or mixed with dirt directly in the water table, and with no long-term monitoring or long-term financial assurances that future pollution problems will be corrected. This worries Perry and Linda Dively, and their neighbor, Ethel Zink. The three share a drinking-water well near the Black Beauty Coal Co. mine in southwestern Indiana near Pimento, south of Terre Haute. Black Beauty has one permit to dump ash and is seeking a second one. ‘‘If we don’t have water, we’re not going to have anything here,’’ Zink said. ‘I’ve never heard anything good about ash.’’ Black Beauty officials referred

questions about mine-placement of ash to Nat Noland, president of the Indiana Coal Council. It’s important that Indiana coal companies be allowed to return ash to mines, because some power companies don’t have enough space for the material, Noland said. This is something that Illinois allows, and Indiana coal companies need an even playing field with its competitors across the state line, he said. In addition, the practice has proved to be safe, Noland said. Indiana Department of Natural Resources officials agree with Noland’s assessment. The relatively impermeable soil on the bottom and sides of the strip mine pits will slow the movement of any potential contaminants, said Bruce Stevens, director of the DNR’s Division of Reclamation. ‘‘We look and see where people’s drinking-water wells are,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘We are going to err on the side of caution.’’ The well shared by Zink and the Divelys ‘‘is a mile away from the nearest mining,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘Their well supply won’t be impacted.’’ But Roland Baker, a neighbor, said nobody is worried about the wells going bad in just a year or two. ‘‘It may not take until our grandkids,’’ he said. ‘‘But by then, nobody will be responsible.’’

Construction fill concerns
Environmentalists are also worried about one increasingly popular use of ash as construction fill. Kentucky and Indiana allow any volume of ash to be used this way, requiring neither liners nor groundwater monitoring. Some cities, with rugged terrain and few buildable flat surfaces, are grateful for what amounts to free or nearly free construction material from

power plants. Wilder, Ky., south of Cincinnati, has used ash extensively for several years for construction sites along the Licking River — even within the boundaries of the 100-year flood plain. ‘‘If we thought there was anything hazardous, we wouldn’t have done this,’’ said Terry Vance, city administrator. ‘‘So far it’s worked out pretty good.’’ Indiana lawmakers have granted these legislatively defined ‘‘beneficial reuses’’ of ash a complete exemption from environmental laws, said Bruce Palin, deputy assistant commissioner for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Land Quality. Palin said he knows of no abuses. In Kentucky, power plants must report once a year how much of their ash goes to beneficial uses and identify them. But there’s no requirement that power plants, haulers or building contractors file any advance notice so regulators can make sure the dumping follows proper engineering principles and is not merely being done to avoid the cost of using a landfill. There’s also no requirement that the companies obtain a permit that assures the construction fill will be designed to prevent pollution. Hancock County Judge-Executive Jack B. McCaslin discovered how loose the beneficial-use regulations were last year, when a constituent complained about ash dumped on eight acres of rural land in his Western Kentucky county. The property was being filled so the landowner could put up a storage building, McCaslin said. But the ash pile looked like an open dump to him, so he contacted the environmental protection cabinet. The cabinet stepped in and stopped Western Kentucky Energy, filing a notice of violation. The fill was too large in relation to the size of the building, said Ron Gruzesky, environmental engineering branch manager in the cabinet’s Division of Waste Management. LG&E Energy, the parent company of Western Energy, said in a letter from its legal staff to state officials that it had done nothing wrong with the Hancock County ash. The company said the Hancock project was like many others the state allowed. The company later decided not to proceed with the project, said Caryl Pfeiffer, environmental affairs director for LG&E Energy. McCaslin said the state never would have known about the dumping if he hadn’t called. ‘‘I know we gotta have power. But I think the state needs to get a better handle on this stuff.’’ State officials agreed with McCaslin’s assessment. Absent a permit-approval process, sometimes inspectors must rely on tips from the public or local officials, said Bill Burger, manager of the waste management division’s field operations branch. As a remedy, the agency has recently recommended that power plants and their haulers come to it first with their construction fill plans — even if the law doesn’t require it. ‘‘For the majority of cases, individuals are coming to us ahead of time,’’ said Robert Daniell, director of the waste management division. Using ash for construction fill is a legitimate practice and one that the EPA wants to encourage, said Dennis Ruddy, the EPA’s point person on coal waste issues. But that’s only if ash is tested in advance for potential toxicity, and if its placement is engineered to minimize its contact with water, he said. ‘‘If you back up a dump truck and fill up a hollow with no pre-planning and engineering . . . that is what we are trying to avoid.’’

An eye to the future
EPA officials came close to classifying ash destined for landfills, ponds

or strip mines as hazardous two years ago, after it found that 86 percent of groundwater samples taken near ash landfills contained arsenic levels more than 10 times the EPA’s new health standard. The determination could have cost the industry hundreds of millions, if not several billions, of dollars. In the end, the draft decision that would have done so was reversed after industry lobbying. EPA officials still intend to propose a national rule on ash disposal to make sure that states follow a set of minimum protections, Ruddy said. ‘‘We’re trying to keep track of where you put it for future generations,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re trying to prevent future problems.’’ He acknowledged that the rules might call for long-term monitoring of ash landfills and places where ash is dumped in strip mines. With mine-filling, he said, the government may require companies to post environmental performance bonds that extend for decades, ensuring a pot of money to pay for future remediation. Originally, the EPA promised it would release the draft rules next year. It has since moved the deadline back to early 2004 because of a need for additional analyses, he said. Indiana’s Natural Resources Commission in July preliminarily approved the state’s groundwater protection standards. The DNR also announced it will seek a per-ton charge for ash dumped in old strip mines to raise money for future environmental cleanups if they’re needed. The groundwater standards also may force restrictions on ash ponds, said Tim Method, deputy commissioner for the Indiana environmental management department. ‘‘We are going through a process to identify any activities that currently are not regulated or are under-regulated,’’ Method said. ‘‘Ash ponds would fall on that list.’’ The moves address only some of the critics’ concerns. The coal industry will likely fight any tax on ash disposal, said Noland of the Indiana Coal Council. ‘‘We are so close to seeing what the EPA is going to recommend to the states,’’ he said. ‘‘To get ahead of the EPA at this point does not make a lot of sense.’’ Kentucky’s environmental protection has called for several changes, among them: Ω The establishment of statewide groundwater standards. Ω Groundwater monitoring at all ash ponds. Ω Greater scrutiny of ash when used as construction fill, including groundwater monitoring. Patton administration officials have little hope that the General Assembly will tighten the rules on coal ash. Too many people in Kentucky think environmental regulations have gone too far and are too costly, said Logan, the environmental protection department commissioner. So his cabinet is looking at what can be done within existing laws, he said. Regulators may not need to look further than the state’s new power plant siting law, which requires greater scrutiny of new power plants. ‘‘The legislature made it clear that if (new) plants are going to site here in the state, they will be expected to pay the full cost of doing business here,’’ said Tom FitzGerald, director of the environmental group Kentucky Resources Council, who helped write the bill. ‘‘They can’t shift those costs . . . by undermanaging their wastes.’’












Electric utilities have reduced air emissions significantly while increasing electricity production and tripling the use of coal since 1970. But as air emissions are decreased, the amount of waste ash tends to increase. Future pollution controls could make ash more potentially polluting or more difficult to reuse in commercial products. The illustration below represents one common type of coal-fired power plant. Scrubber A device used to remove sulfur dioxide (SO2) from the boiler exhaust (flue) gas. WASTE: FLUE GAS DUSULFURIZATION WASTE (SCRUBBER SLUDGE) Waste produced during the process of removing sulfur gases from the flue gases. Stack A structure used to exhaust and disperse the hot flue gases from the boiler.

Coal Electric utilities use coal to generate nearly 57 percent of our nation’s electricity

Steam Generator (Boiler) A large vessel that contains an assembly of tubes in which water is heated to steam that is then used to drive a turbine.

Burner A nozzle device, generally located in the lower boiler walls, which introduces the pulverized coal into the boiler and mixes with the correct amount of additional air to burn the fuel.

Precipitator A device used to remove the fly ash from the boiler exhaust (flue) gas. WASTE: FLY ASH A light gray or tan powder that is the largest byproduct of coal combustion. Fly ash becomes entrained with, and carried out of the boiler by, the hot exhaust (flue) gases.

Transformer An electromagnetic device that increases the output voltage of the generator while reducing the current (amperage) to make the transmission of electricity more efficient.






Turbine A device consisting of fan-type blades attached to a shaft that is spun by expanding steam, converting the kinetic energy of the steam into mechanical energy. Generator A machine that transforms the mechanical energy of the turbine into electric energy. Cooling tower A device that cools the cooling water by evaporating a small portion of it and reducing the amount of heat that is released to rivers, lakes and streams.

Primary air fan/ pulverizer Devices that prepares coal for burning by grinding it to a fine powder, drying and mixing it with hot air to create an efficiently combustible fuel.

AIR WASTE: BOTTOM ASH A coal-combustion byproduct that collects on the wall of the boiler, eventually falling to the bottom, where it is collected. Bottom ash is a ceramic-like material. WATER

Cooling water Outside water used to condense the steam passing through the condenser.

Pipes from plant dump effluent into first pond. Water from that pond flows into second pond. Cleaner water drains to river.



Roughly 30% of coal combustion waste goes toward so-called "beneficial re-use." Some of those uses: BOTTOM ASH ■ Asphalt ■ Concrete aggregate ■ Insulation ■ Abrasive grit ■ Road and building fill FLY ASH ■ Cement ■ Road and building filler ■ Waste stabilizer



Coal ash mixed with water poured into first of two settling ponds at the Gallagher power plant in Southern Indiana.

Aerial view shows the hollow that is being filled in with coal ash at the Lodestar Energy Inc., dump in Ivel, Ky.




Air kept cleaner, but scientists study if risk migrates The Courier-Journal


They call it ‘‘clean-coal technology.’’ It involves new methods of burning coal and scrubbing smokestacks that offer hope of cutting emissions from power plants. That’s a potential relief for asthma sufferers and others with lung problems in Kentucky, Indiana and other coal-burning states. But some of the new technologies produce more combustion waste — up to 60 percent more with one type of burner — that must be disposed of or used commercially. And some people, including environmentalists and Kentucky environmental regulators, are concerned that ash may begin to contain larger quantities of potentially harmful pollutants. ‘‘Clean-coal technology is a code word for ‘Let’s just generate more waste than ever before,’ ’’ said Jeffrey Stant, an Indiana consultant to the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit advocacy

group based in Boston. He is a leading national critic of how power companies manage their ash. Researchers at the University of Kentucky and laboratories around the country are beginning to turn their attention to the subject. What the scientists find will answer not only questions about the potential risk of new forms of ash, but also the extent to which the ash can be used commercially. Pollutants or other impurities could threaten groundwater or render the coal waste useless as an ingredient in products such as cement or wallboard. ‘‘We have made as a national decision that air pollution control is the Number 1 priority without considering some of the solidwaste issues that go with it,’’ said Tom Robl, associate director of UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research. ‘‘As a result, we’re going to have more solids to handle.’’ Watching closely will be environmental regulators, who know that any changes in ash content

will need to be scrutinized to prevent pollution. ‘‘We’re not going to have the same (ash) materials,’’ said Bob Logan, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection. For example, both President Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative and competing legislation sponsored by Sen. Jim Jeffords, a Vermont independent, seek to reduce mercury, a toxic trace metal, in power-plant emissions. Keeping it out of the air could concentrate it in the ash — raising the risk of groundwater contamination from landfills and settling ponds. ‘‘This is a potential issue,’’ said Tom Feeley, a project manager at the federal National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh. Preliminary studies suggest that mercury, which can cause brain damage in humans, does not wash out of coal ash, Feeley said. ‘‘But if you are taking the mercury out of flue gas, it’s going to go someplace.’’






Source: Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet





A worker last month loaded gypsum for transport from the Louisville Gas & Electric plant in Bedford, Ky. The plant produces a synthetic gypsum using calcium sulfate waste from the plant’s scrubbers.