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Fly ash marketers, users spared ‘hazardous material’ stigma in EPA rule

Sources: American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), Farmington Hills, Mich.; Environmental Protection Agency; CP staff

After five and a half years of proposals, reworking and review of 450,000-plus comments, the EPA issued a final rule on coal combustion residuals (CCR) from utility power plants, strengthening management guidelines for impoundment- or landfill-bound material while supporting responsible recycling practices best exemplified in ASTM C618-grade fly ash processing and marketing.

“The regulatory uncertainty that has impeded the beneficial use of coal ash for half a decade has finally come to an end,” affirms ACAA Executive Director Thomas Adams. “EPA’s decision to regulate coal ash as a ‘nonhazardous’ material puts science ahead of politics and clears the way for beneficial use of ash to begin growing again— thereby keeping ash out of landfills and disposal ponds in the first place.”

Such use has trended negatively against historical patterns since the agency initiated CCR management and disposal rulemaking in June 2009. The proposed rule offered two CCR classification options under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act: Subtitle D, tasking states with significant coal ash handling, storage and disposal oversight; and, Subtitle C, inviting “hazardous waste” labeling of landfill-bound ash and federal scrutiny of material management and disposal. The latter option sparked concern among cement and concrete interests over the stigma fly ash would carry as a material with essentially the same chemical properties as one EPA labeled hazardous. ACAA and allied groups endorsed aspects of the Subtitle D option, the course EPA ultimately chose.

According to ACAA’s most recent “Production and Use Survey,” released two days before the EPA final CCR rule, coal ash utilization hovered below 2008 levels for the fifth consecutive year in 2013. If the past five years had simply remained equal with 2008’s utilization, the association estimates, 26.4 million tons less coal ash would have been disposed.

“As an organization devoted to using coal ash in environmentally responsible and technically sound ways, we look forward to finally being able to focus all of our attention back on growing these uses,” Adams affirms. Coal ash has never qualified as a “hazardous waste” based on its toxicity, he adds, as its trace levels of metals are comparable to those materials it replaces in common recycling applications.