Many precasters have discovered the benefits of using fly ash in their mix designs. Fly ash is a cementitious material that enhances concrete’s workability, strength and durability, and it often provides a cost savings over using portland cement alone. But it’s also good for the environment. Using fly ash can be win-win-win.
The events of Dec. 22, 2008, however, could dramatically change everything. On that day, a containment dike ruptured at Kingston Fossil Plant near Kingston, Tenn., and sent 1.1 billion gallons (4.2 billion L) of coal fly ash slurry over 300 acres (122 hectares) of surrounding land, damaging homes and flowing into nearby rivers. This spill was the largest fly ash release in U.S. history. Cleanup costs are estimated to run anywhere between $525 million and $825 million, not including potential long-term cleanup.
This accident was caused by a major engineering failure, and steps need to be taken to avoid similar accidents in the future. Spurred by cries of environmental activists, however, the net that has been cast far exceeds the root causes of this incident. Science is being overtaken by politics, and as a result, fly ash could be declared a hazardous waste. That would change how it is used and disposed of in the United States.
Before the Tennessee spill, the EPA categorized fly ash as a “special waste,” meaning it was exempt from federal hazardous waste regulations under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Due to increasing pressure from environmental groups, the EPA is considering reclassifying fly ash as a hazardous waste. Although an exemption would stay in place for use as an SCM, the fear is that the designation of fly ash as a hazardous waste could potentially lead to its removal from project specifications and national codes and standards because of liability concerns. If designated a hazardous waste, fly ash could also become more expensive to handle, making it less desirable for recycling into concrete mixes and other environmentally beneficial uses, increasing industrial waste and the need for even more “hazardous material” containment.
Without fly ash as a recycled material component for use in concrete, our industry could face higher costs and loss of competitiveness as a green building material. And, of course, stricter regulation of fly ash would adversely affect concrete’s sustainability.
Many states and industry representatives have stepped forward to urge the EPA to consider nonhazardous waste regulation under RCRA Subtitle D, which would protect the beneficial uses of fly ash while still mandating appropriate practices for storage and disposal. As a result of these efforts, in June 2010, the EPA proposed the first nationwide rules for the disposal of ash from coal-fired power plants and opted not to classify the substance as hazardous. A public comment period is in effect until Nov. 19, 2010, where groups on both sides of the issue are weighing in on the EPA’s classification proposal. The EPA proposal is calling for public comment on these two options:
The first option would classify residual fly ash bound for disposal under RCRA Subtitle C, which essentially classifies fly ash as a hazardous material and includes a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for hazardous waste management and disposal.
This option includes remedies under Subtitle D, which would regulate fly ash as solid waste, rather than hazardous waste. This section of the law gives EPA authority to set performance standards for waste management facilities and would be enforced primarily through citizen lawsuits. States can act as citizens. The rule would be “self-implementing” by industry with minimal oversight.
Under both options, coal combustion residuals diverted for beneficial use, such as fly ash for use in concrete, are encouraged by EPA and exempt from new regulations. EPA has clearly stated that it wants to choose one of the two options and does not want the status quo, which it is convinced adds to health risks.
If you are using fly ash, it is important that you weigh in on this important issue now. Please visit our fly ash resources page at www.precast.org/flyash, where you can:
- Take a brief survey on fly ash and tell us how a reclassification by the EPA would impact your business.
- Submit a public comment before Nov. 19, 2010 (see the sidebar “How to Submit a Public Comment”).
- Attend upcoming public hearings in Arlington, Va.; Denver; Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Pittsburgh; and Louisville, Ky.
- Visit the NPCA fly ash resource page for a link including more information on the public hearings.
- Find more information on the EPA ruling.
- Link to a webinar on fly ash sponsored by The Concrete Producer magazine. Claude Goguen, NPCA director of Technical Services, was one of the webinar panelists.
How to Submit a Public Comment
Comments may be submitted in several ways:
- Electronically at www.regulations.gov
- Via e-mail to [email protected], Attention Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–RCRA–2009–0640
- Faxed to (202) 566–0272, Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640
- Mailed to the Hazardous Waste Management System, Identification and Listing of Special Wastes, Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals From Electric Utilities and CERCLA Hazardous Substance Designation and Reportable Quantities Docket, Attention Docket ID No., EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 5305T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460. Please include a total of two copies if sending by mail.