Aug 29, 2007

EPA Reviewing Cancer Risks in Delaware Coal Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a document pointing out that piles of ash generated by power plants and industry could cause toxic water pollution and high risks of cancer if they are not managed correctly.

The EPA is also currently reviewing whether a hazardous waste label or new controls are needed for the piles of “fly ash” that are created as a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion.

Deleware’s The News Journal reports that power plants in and around the state generate hundreds of thousands of tons of fly ash a year. Most of the ash is put in landfills near Millsboro, or sent to an area near Wilmington where it is then mixed with treated sewage sludge.

James Werner, air and waste management director for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, expressed to The News Journal that he feels that currently the state in managing the issue, but with new air regulations this could change.

Experts worry that increasing the air pollution control requirements could increase both the amount and potential hazards of fly ash and other wastes from coal-burning power plants. The News Journal reports that industry now generates about 120 million tons of fine-grained fly ash and related wastes annually nationwide. 46 million tons are recycled, usually into mine-filling or reclamation projects.

State officials are not sure if a reevaluation of permits will have an affect on the millions of tons of coal ash mixed with sewage sludge that is piled at sites along the Delaware River and close to the Indian River.

According to The News Journal Wilmington and its wastewater plant subcontractor are seeking a 20-year agreement to pile 4 million tons of the material on a site at the mouth of the Christina River.

The EPA has reported that arsenic, thallium and other hazardous compounds in mismanaged fly ash piles and impoundments can create serious hazards. Additionally, cancer risks from arsenic-tainted groundwater around large, wet fly ash impoundments can rise to more than 600 times the current EPA "level of concern" for arsenic.