EPA Continues to Promote Coal Ash Without Knowing Risks
Inspector General Excoriates EPA for Blocking Risk Assessments and Screening
Washington, DC — After it shut down its joint program with industry promoting use of coal ash in commercial, agricultural and consumer products last summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to push reuse of coal ash, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA’s actions are particularly troubling in light of a report last week by its own Office of Inspector General (IG) that EPA has not done any risk assessments or safety precautions for the 60 million tons of combustion wastes annually entering the American marketplace.
For most of the past decade, EPA ran a joint venture with the coal industry called the Coal Combustion Products Partnership or C2P2. Its aim was to increase the amount of the coal combustion waste used as a product in everything from stucco and grout to even cosmetics. During its tenure, the portion sold as product increased from one-third to approximately half of the total waste stream. In July, 2010, under pressure from PEER and the IG, EPA abruptly suspended C2P2 and, without public announcement, took down the program’s web-center.
The latest IG report, issued on March 23, 2011, is the third recent report faulting C2P2 and focuses on the total absence of risk assessment by EPA for the practices it is promoting. The IG points out that coal ash and other wastes “contain a range of metals, such as arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead and mercury” and that absent “proper protections, these contaminants can leach into ground water and migrate to drinking water sources, posing significant public health concerns.” Nonetheless, the IG found that –
- The EPA never finalized the single risk assessment it started even though this draft covered only a small fraction of the coal ash uses EPA endorses;
- “EPA initiated, but never finished, two risk screening practices to evaluate risks” of coal ash applications; and
- EPA never even identified what are safe and unsafe practices with the coal ash it was pushing.
In response to the report, EPA said it would eventually implement risk evaluation measures but would not commit to a timetable.
“EPA’s ignorance is bliss posture on coal ash is the height of irresponsibility,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who has been urging the agency to stop blindly backing the sale of coal ash as a “beneficial use.” “By all appearances, EPA has shirked its public health duties and scientific objectivity to accommodate its corporate partners and their very powerful political allies.”
Despite shuttering the C2P2 program, EPA continues to promote coal ash reuse through other partnerships, all without any safety or health precautions, according to documents PEER obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Internal documents and correspondence also evidence repeated EPA assurances to industry that the agency does not intend to interfere with or even regulate coal ash reuse.
“EPA remains in an uneasy Faustian bargain with the coal industry,” added Ruch, noting that EPA offered regulatory immunity for coal ash reuse in return for the industry dropping opposition to a hazardous waste classification for coal ash in sludge ponds, but the coal industry balked. “EPA takes the unsupportable position that coal ash is hazardous in sludge but okay as mine-fill or agricultural soil amendment and just dandy in your bedroom wallboard, living room carpet, kitchen counters and in your toothpaste tube.”