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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 INSIDE

USES: Coal

in power plant waste

ash is used
in products
ranging from
wallboard to
fill to
By JAMES BRUGGERS and it’s been causing great impacts to cement. aquatic systems,’’ Stant said. Page A18
The Courier-Journal The issue of regulation is drawing in- BACK AND
creasing attention as power companies pro- FORTH:
The nation’s coal-fired power plants are pose a new generation of coal-fired plants,
producing mountains of ash — more than urged on by the Bush administration’s na-
Under one
100 million tons annually, fueling a debate tional energy strategy. There are proposals arrangement,
over the environmental threat it poses. for eight new coal plants in Kentucky and coal was
A byproduct of burned coal, coal ash is two in Indiana. shipped to
sometimes converted for use in products With those plants, the two states are brac- Florida
such as wallboard and cement, but 70 per- ing for more ash — 6 million additional tons plants and
cent ends up in landfills, settling ponds and yearly in Kentucky alone, or about as much the waste
old strip mines. as Indiana produces now. ash sent
Across the country, just one year’s worth At the same time, regulations that govern back to
of ash, placed on a football field, would ex- how power companies manage combustion Kentucky.
tend 11.1 miles high. waste are inconsistent — and in some cases Page A18
And while the energy industry has long are all but non existent. RISKS:
argued that the material is benign, with coal Thirty families in the Northern Indiana
undergoing a national resurgence, environ- town of Pines understand what’s at stake. Technology
mental leaders are questioning anew the ex- An EPA emergency response team, led by has reduced
tent to which coal ash and the traces of po- on-site coordinator Kenneth Theisen, told the air
BY DURELL HALL JR., THE COURIER-JOURNAL tentially toxic heavy metals contained in it them this summer that their private drink- pollution
Dave Sehorn, left, of Pines, Ind., reacted as he was told by Kenneth Theisen of the threaten groundwater supplies, streams, riv- ing-water wells are ruined — 15 years after from
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that drinking-water wells in the area are ers, lakes and aquatic life. government scientists first suggested that a burning coal,
polluted. Theisen believes heavy metals in coal ash buried in a landfill and used as ‘‘The regulation of coal ash is haphazard nearby ash landfill might be spreading pol- but some
construction fill are to blame. Resident Jan Nona said communities need to be at best,’’ said Jeffrey Stant, an Indiana con- lution. wonder if the
vigilant about where coal combustion waste goes. ‘‘If someone thinks ash can’t sultant to the Boston-based Clean Air Task Theisen said he believes a toxic plume of danger has
cause problems, I’ve got a bridge to sell them in San Francisco.’’ Force — a nonprofit advocacy group — and heavy metals from power plant ash, buried only shifted.
a leading national critic of how power com- in the landfill and scattered around town as Page A24
panies manage their ash. construction fill, is the likely culprit. EPA
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agen-
cy ‘‘has been asleep at the switch. The fact See ASH
is, (pollution from ash) is getting to people, Page 23, col. 1, this section


E. Kentucky company able to dump ash beyond protective liner

By JAMES BRUGGERS bottom part would get a liner,’’ Gilbert said, adding that a liner higher up wasn’t needed. Paintsville
The Courier-Journal ‘‘The higher up you get, you have more soil 114
between the bottom of the ash and the top of Bert T. Combs Prestonsburg
IVEL, Ky. — The order was simple enough. the groundwater.’’ Mountain
An Eastern Kentucky mining company con- Any pollutants from the ash ‘‘in theory’’ IVEL
structing an ash landfill in 1993 in a mountain would be filtered by the dirt before they got to
hollow near Ivel in Floyd County was required the groundwater, he said. FLOYD 80

by the Kentucky Natural Resources and Envi- ‘‘The state’s position is absurd,’’ countered COUNTY 80
ronmental Protection Cabinet to install a syn- lawyer Tom FitzGerald, director of the envi- Pikeville
thetic liner. ronmental group Kentucky Resources Coun-
The result of a legal challenge from local cil, who, along with attorney Michael deBour- 80
residents, the liner was intended to prevent bon of Pikeville, helped negotiate the order. 80
contaminants in the ash from getting into the The state should have forced the company
Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, which to extend the liner, FitzGerald said. Hazard Louisville
supplies drinking water to Pikeville in neigh- ‘‘Our assumption was that liner would be
boring Pike County. extended if the facility was expanded,’’ Fitz- ENLARGED
Costain Coal, now operating as Lodestar Gerald said.
Energy, installed the liner in Stratton Branch At the very least, state officials could have
hollow and piled ash on it during the first informed the Kentucky Resources Council or BY STEVE DURBIN, THE C-J
stage of its dumping. deBourbon of the situation so local residents
But when it ran out of room and moved into could have had a chance to request a liner for
the second stage, the company placed ash di- the dump’s second phase, FitzGerald said. awareness that ash landfills can cause
rectly on bare ground farther up the hollow. Records on file in Frankfort show that state groundwater pollution problems, Gilbert said,
State regulators did nothing to stop the officials are coming around to FitzGerald’s adding that he’s not aware of such a problem BY STEWART BOWMAN, THE COURIER-JOURNAL
dumping of ash beyond the liner because the position that a liner is needed for the entire at the Ivel fill. Bill Justice, a Lodestar Energy engineer, stood atop coal ash at a landfill in Ivel, Ky., that
original order only covered the first stage, landfill. The plan will leave some ash in direct con- the company plans to expand. ‘‘We’ve been here eight years, and no problems,’’ he said.
said George F. Gilbert, a high-ranking envi- In July 2001, Lodestar applied for a permit tact with the ground. The state doesn’t know
ronmental engineer in the cabinet. to extend the life of the ash landfill to 40 how much ash rests on bare earth, Gilbert Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, has found a that’s on bare ground, said Bill Justice, an en-
That order, through the cabinet’s Office of years from about 12 years. It intends to dump said, because the company’s permit did not replacement for $3.4 million in environmental gineer with Lodestar.
Administrative Hearings, required that the lin- a total of 14.7 million cubic yards of ash on 71 require such accounting. performance bonds that the state considered But Justice said that neither the original lin-
er extend only so far up the hollow, Gilbert acres, piled 600 feet high at its deepest point. Groundwater monitors around the landfill at risk of default, York said. er nor the planned new one, to be constructed
said. It was signed by representatives of local The state intends to require the company to will be able to detect pollution if it occurs, Lodestar is working to secure the new at a cost of $20 million, are needed because
residents, the cabinet and the company, al- install a liner under all ash that will be York said. bonds as part of its reorganization, said Mike the ash is environmentally benign.
though never written into the company’s sepa- dumped after the permit is approved, said No decision will be made on Lodestar’s pro- Francisco, a Lodestar vice president. ‘‘We’ve been here eight years, and no prob-
rate waste management permit. Mark York, spokesman for the cabinet. posed landfill expansion until the Pikeville- The landfill expansion will be engineered to lems,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t expect that to
‘‘I assumed all parties knew that only the In the past decade, there’s been a growing based company, which is operating under minimize any potential effect from the ash change.’’


Coal ash turns up in growing range of products

The Courier-Journal
At two new factories in Northern GOES
Kentucky, workers turn what was
once waste from air pollution scrub- YEAR 2000
bers into wallboard for home and
business construction. KENTUCKY TOTALS
Lafarge Gypsum and BBP Celotex Struc. fill Blasting grit/
have added roughly 500 jobs while 3.2% roof granules
keeping more than 1.3 million tons of 4.8%
coal combustion waste out of landfills Cement Other
and settling ponds each year. 1.2% 0.4%
The wallboard plants — one in
Silver Grove and the other in Carroll- Gypsum
ton — illustrate the trend in the elec- 7.3%
tric generating industry: finding more Pond
ways to put ash and scrubber sludge 32.1%
to beneficial uses.
‘‘Coal can be part of sustainable de-
velopment in this country,’’ said
James C. Hower, a scientist at the Landfill
University of Kentucky’s Center for 51%
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 U.S. TOTALS
waste annually is put to so-called
‘‘beneficial reuse’’ — practices that Blasting grit/ Ash
commonly carry broad exemptions roof granules (road base)
from environmental regulations. 2.1% 2%
The amount of ash reused is in- Anti-skid material
creasing by about 3 percent a year, Waste 1%
said David C. Goss, president of the stabilization Other
American Coal Ash Association. 1.9% 4.9%
Indiana reuses about 29 percent of PHOTOS BY DURELL HALL JR., THE COURIER-JOURNAL
the ash it generates; Kentucky, 13 per- Tom Robl, associate director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, discussed the properties of coal ash, which
cent. 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 Struc. fill
Products include insulating glass Portland cement to a level of 50 percent, we would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases by 750 million tons.’’ 4.2% Pond
beads incorporated into heat shields 21.6%
of the space shuttles, an ingredient in ‘‘We are the feedstock for them,’’ 10.5%
cement, and a substitute for dirt and said Caryl Pfeiffer, environmental af-
gravel fill at construction sites. fairs director for LG&E. ‘‘It means the Gypsum
While some reuse practices can be avoidance of (gypsum) mining.’’ 3.1% Landfill
controversial — such as unscrutinized The Wm. H. Zimmer Generating 48.7%
use of ash as construction fill — Station, located in Ohio near Cincin-
there’s broad support for methods nati and owned by Cinergy and two
that ensure the environment won’t be other companies, supplies the Silver
harmed. Grove wallboard manufacturing facili-
‘‘There are, in fact, legitimate bene- ty in Campbell County. SOURCE: KENTUCKY NATURAL RESOURCE AND
ficial uses of coal ash,’’ said longtime At LG&E’s Mill Creek generating
coal industry watchdog Tom FitzGer- station in Jefferson County, ash from THE COURIER-JOURNAL
ald, director of the Kentucky Re- the bottom of the plant’s boilers is
sources Council, an environmental screened, sorted and tested for pollu-
group. ‘‘The question is always, ‘Are tion potential. The Metropolitan Sew- U.S. ASH
you managing the material in a way er District then uses it under and
that pollutants of concern will not mi- around new sewer lines. PRODUCTION, 2000*
grate into the environment?’ ’’ ‘‘It’s not just Uncle Phil driving up State Tons
He cited one especially good exam- in a truck and loading this stuff in,’’
ple of the use of fly ash: as an ingredi- Robl said. 1. Texas 10.1
ent in Portland cement, a practice re- At LG&E-owned Western Kentucky 2. Ohio 9.2
searched at the UK energy research Energy’s Coleman Power Station in 3. Kentucky 7.4
center. The practice is employed by Hawesville, UK is testing a technology Caryl Pfeiffer, environmental affairs director for 4. Pennsylvania 6.5
Jefferson County’s Cosmos Cement to turn ash in the plant’s rapidly fill- LG&E Energy, said four LG&E power plants in 5. Indiana 5.9
Co., which uses ash from LG&E Ener- ing settling ponds back into energy Kentucky use coal ash to produce gypsum.
gy’s nearby Mill Creek generating sta- and other products. 6. West Virginia 5.7
tion. Pond ash is excavated. The smallest Air Task Force — a nonprofit advoca- 7. Oklahoma 4.3
The benefits could be significant, particles of carbon are separated and cy group — and a critic of how power 8. New Mexico 3.9
said Tom Robl, associate director of reburned with coal. Larger particles companies manage their ash. 9. North Carolina 3.9
the UK energy research center. In can be used for other purposes, in- ‘‘There is simply no financial incen- 10. Florida 3.5
Kentucky, for example, ash substi- cluding as an absorbent material for tive to recycle.’’ *Coal-fired plants operated by regulated
tutes for about 18 percent of cement, environmental cleanups. Kentucky lags behind other states utilities only. Other coal ash is produced
the binding agent in concrete. The technology holds promise that in putting coal combustion waste to by merchant plants and industrial boilers.
While coal-fired power plants are settling ponds and landfills across the other uses, in part because many of SOURCE: U.S. DEPT. OF ENERGY
major sources of the greenhouse gas country, which together hold more its power plants are remote, rais- STATS, ANALYZED BY AMERICAN COAL
carbon dioxide, blamed in part for than 1.5 billion tons of coal plant ing transportation costs of ash,
global warming, their ash can be used waste, could someday be tapped for experts said. THE COURIER-JOURNAL
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions useful products, Robl said. ‘‘Sometimes it’s more effi-
released from cement kilns, Robl said. UK scientists have also helped to cient to landfill or dispose
The kilns release a ton of carbon put the cinder back in cinder blocks. of the material,’’ ac-
dioxide for every ton of cement that’s Air pollution controls in the 1970s and knowledged Goss, of
made. 1980s left too much carbon in bottom the coal ash associ-
‘‘If we took all the concrete in the ash for the material to be used in cin- ation.
whole world,’’ Robl said, ‘‘and we in- der blocks. So the industry changed
creased the substitution rate of fly ash to blocks of concrete.
for Portland cement to a level of 50 In recent years, the UK center has
percent, we would reduce the amount worked with Chara Environmental of
of greenhouse gases by 750 million Madisonville to develop ways to re-
tons, which would represent 25 per- move the carbon economically. Chara
cent of the emissions of all autos in now markets a line of products made
the world.’’ from coal combustion wastes.
The wallboard plants benefit from More ash isn’t reused for a variety
changes that LG&E Energy and Cin- of reasons.
ergy have made to some smokestack Air pollution regulations have
scrubbers that use ground-up lime- prompted changes in how coal is
stone to remove sulfur dioxide — a burned, resulting in more impurities
component of acid rain. in ash that make the material harder
While older scrubbers produce an to convert into commercial products.
unusable waste product of calcium And some companies are con-
sulfite and calcium sulfate, the newer cerned about the potential liability of
pollution control devices produce only turning waste into commercial proj-
calcium sulfate. With refining at their ects, said Jim Roewer, executive di-
power plants, the companies can turn rector of the Utility Solid Waste Ac- Jack Groppo of UK’s Center for
calcium sulfate into a high-grade syn- tivities Group, a consortium of utility Applied Energy Research held a
thetic gypsum. operating companies. construction block made with coal
Four of LG&E Energy’s Kentucky Further, it has been too easy to dis- cinders. The center worked on finding
plants are producing gypsum — some pose of ash in landfills, ponds or old economical methods to remove carbon
sent to Carrollton, and some shipped mines, said Jeffrey Stant, an Indiana from the ash so that it could be used
by barge to New Orleans. consultant to the Boston-based Clean in the blocks.


Coal shipped to Florida power plants; waste ash returned to Kentucky

By JAMES BRUGGERS Coalfield residents that bear the not wanting the coal ash. They want- term contracts with the power pro- environmental brunt of mining are ed it sent back to the mine to be used vider, said Bill Justice, a Lodestar en-
The Courier-Journal taking a second hit from ash dispos- for reclamation,’’ Franklin said. gineer. He said it gave the company
al, said Jerry Hardt, spokesman for As it turns out, the mining com- a marketing edge over other sources
When Florida residents a decade Kentuckians For The Common- pany doesn’t use the ash for reclama- of coal and has helped the company
ago strongly objected to the prospect wealth, an environmental group. tion. employ 200 people in the region.
of two coal-fired power plants depos- ‘‘If it (ash) is such a benign sub- Here’s what happens: When residents near Ivel, Ky., op-
iting waste ash locally, public offi- stance, as we are led to believe,’’ Coal mined from Lodestar’s Ken- posed the landfill in the early 1990s,
cials listened. Hardt said, ‘‘why don’t they keep it tucky strip mines is shipped by rail they weren’t upset that the ash came
They required that the ash be in Florida and use it there?’’ to a power plant at Indiantown in from out of state, said attorney Mi-
shipped back to the Kentucky mining PG&E has been assured that the south Florida. Rail cars returning to
chael deBourbon of Pikeville, who
company producing the coal as a re- ash is being disposed of in an envi- Kentucky for more coal bring back
quirement of the power plant con- ronmentally responsible way, said represented them. They were wor-
the ash, where it has been filling up the
struction permits. Lisa Franklin, spokeswoman for the Stratton Branch hollow for the past ried about their water supply in the
Lodestar Energy, of Pikeville, Ky., company. eight years. Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River,
agreed to take the waste ash back The arrangement had nothing to Until last year, before Lodestar ob- he said.
and now puts it in a mountain hollow do with any differences in environ- tained bankruptcy protection and The landfill has not harmed the
it owns. mental laws between the states, she canceled one of its contracts, the environment, and the coal jobs have
This arrangement with Florida said. Florida environmentalists say, company also sent coal to a PG&E been good for the region, said Mike
power provider PG&E National Ener- in fact, that their state’s ash-disposal plant in Jacksonville, Fla., and ac- Francisco, vice president of Lodestar.
gy Group is unique in Kentucky and, regulations are among the most lax cepted its ash. Too often the coal industry is BY STEWART BOWMAN, THE COURIER-JOURNAL
according to some, potentially trou- in the country. The coal company offered to ac- wrongly portrayed negatively, he Coal from Lodestar Energy’s Ivel, Ky., site is being shipped to a power
bling. ‘‘It was a matter of the counties cept the ash as a way to secure long- said. plant in Florida. The waste ash is then sent back to Kentucky.

Coal-fired power I N D I A N A
plants dispose of ash
and other
combustion wastes in
settling ponds and Source: Indiana Department of
landfills, and Environmental Management and
Kentucky Natural Resources and

sometimes by Environmental Protection Cabinet
sending it to old

sh Ri
strip mines.




✖ ✖

✖ Kentucky

Ri hio
✖ River

✖ Big Sandy
Louisville River
‘‘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.
✖✖ K E N T U C K Y ✖

Ash from coal-fired plants

✖ Green
Cumberland ✖

under increasing scrutiny

Continued from Page A17 power plants. or strip mines as hazardous two years
LAKE Wilder, Ky., south of Cincinnati,
MICHIGAN COAL COMBUSTION WASTE has used ash extensively for several
ago, after it found that 86 percent of
groundwater samples taken near ash
tests at some homes near the landfill Chicago
have revealed boron levels 13 times Chicago 80 90 PLACED IN INDIANA SURFACE years for construction sites along the landfills contained arsenic levels
Licking River — even within the
higher than the agency uses to decide TOWN
PINES MINES SINCE 1989 (in tons) boundaries of the 100-year flood
more than 10 times the EPA’s new
whether federal money can be tapped Gary
Gary plain. health standard.
for remediation. The determination could have cost
High doses of boron can damage ‘‘If we thought there was anything
AREA hazardous, we wouldn’t have done the industry hundreds of millions, if
the stomach, liver, kidneys and brain, 65
SHOWN this,’’ said Terry Vance, city adminis- not several billions, of dollars. In the
according to the U.S. Agency for Tox-

ic Substances and Disease Registry. INDIANA trator. ‘‘So far it’s worked out pretty end, the draft decision that would
INDIANA good.’’ have done so was reversed after in-


When water was tested from a

ditch that flows next to the landfill, it Indiana lawmakers have granted dustry lobbying.
Indianapolis these legislatively defined ‘‘beneficial

showed considerably higher levels of EPA officials still intend to propose

pollutants than water tested upstream reuses’’ of ash a complete exemption
from environmental laws, said Bruce a national rule on ash disposal to
from the landfill, he said. make sure that states follow a set of









‘‘A coincidence? I don’t think so,’’ Palin, deputy assistant commissioner

for the Indiana Department of Envi- minimum protections, Ruddy said.
Theisen said. Louisville ‘‘We’re trying to keep track of
ronmental Management’s Office of
The company that owns the land-

Land Quality. where you put it for future genera-

fill, Brown Inc. of Michigan City, de- BY STEVE DURBIN, THE C-J
Palin said he knows of no abuses. tions,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re trying to pre-
clined to comment for this story. Re-
Robl, associate director of the Univer- In Kentucky, power plants must re- vent future problems.’’
gina D. Biddings, a spokeswoman for
sity of Kentucky’s Center for Applied ’89 ’90 ’91 ’92 ’93 ’94 ’95 ’96 ’97 ’98 ’99 ’00 ’01 ’02* GRAND port once a year how much of their He acknowledged that the rules
the NIPSCO power plant that sent ash
Energy Research, which works close- *1st quarter TOTAL ash goes to beneficial uses and identi-
to the landfill, said her company was might call for long-term monitoring of
ly with industry. ‘‘No, we are not, fy them.
But there’s no requirement that ash landfills and places where ash is
‘‘If the landfill is contributing to the and is the material hazardous? Not dumped in strip mines.
really.’’ power plants, haulers or building con-
community’s groundwater problem, With mine-filling, he said, the gov-
the company will work with the land- However, environmentalists and COAL ASH RESEARCH tractors file any advance notice so
regulators can make sure the dump- ernment may require companies to
fill operator, the community and state other scientists — typically biologists Research on tadpole development in coal ash ponds at the University of
or ecologists — point to a variety of ing follows proper engineering princi- post environmental performance
and federal agencies to find the best Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory has linked deformities with ples and is not merely being done to
resolution,’’ Biddings said. sites where ash has been blamed for bonds that extend for decades, ensur-
heavy metals in the water. avoid the cost of using a landfill. ing a pot of money to pay for future
The state of Indiana earlier this polluting water and in some cases
harming aquatic life. There’s also no requirement that remediation.
year proposed placing contaminated the companies obtain a permit that
sections of the town on the nation’s With two other researchers, Wil- NORMAL DEFORMED Originally, the EPA promised it
liam Hopkins of the University of assures the construction fill will be
Superfund list of most toxic places. would release the draft rules next
‘‘I’m upset about the whole situa- Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology TADPOLE TADPOLE designed to prevent pollution.
Hancock County Judge-Executive year. It has since moved the deadline
tion,’’ said teacher Phyllis DaMota, Lab recently completed a survey of back to early 2004 because of a need
Jack B. McCaslin discovered how
who can easily see the privately more than 300 reports on ash ponds
loose the beneficial-use regulations for additional analyses, he said.
owned landfill from her front yard and animal toxicity for the EPA.
were last year, when a constituent Indiana’s Natural Resources Com-
and whose well water was the first to According to Hopkins, ash-settling complained about ash dumped on
be deemed unsafe to drink. ‘‘Agencies ponds can be problematic for indig- mission in July preliminarily ap-
eight acres of rural land in his West- proved the state’s groundwater pro-
that are supposed to protect the pub- enous aquatic organisms and those ern Kentucky county.
lic interest didn’t.’’ that use these sites seasonally. The property was being filled so tection standards. The DNR also an-
Activist Jan Nona, a retired steel ‘‘By building these large contami- the landowner could put up a storage nounced it will seek a per-ton charge
mill secretary, said the lesson of her nated wetlands, power plants are ac- building, McCaslin said. for ash dumped in old strip mines to
town of 790 people is that communi- tually attracting wildlife away from But the ash pile looked like an open raise money for future environmental
ties need to be vigilant about where surrounding uncontaminated sites,’’ dump to him, so he contacted the en- cleanups if they’re needed.
coal combustion waste goes and how he said. vironmental protection cabinet. The
Coal combustion waste refers to The groundwater standards also
it’s monitored. cabinet stepped in and stopped West-
‘‘If someone thinks ash can’t cause several kinds of ash and other materi- Top view Underside may force restrictions on ash ponds,
ern Kentucky Energy, filing a notice said Tim Method, deputy commission-
problems, I’ve got a bridge to sell als, including cinders, slag and bot- of violation.
them in San Francisco.’’ tom ash collected at the bottom of the SOURCE: UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA SAVANNAH RIVER ECOLOGY LABORATORY er for the Indiana environmental
The fill was too large in relation to
The EPA two years ago stopped boilers; fly ash collected from flue BY DEVON MORGAN, THE COURIER-JOURNAL the size of the building, said Ron Gru- management department.
short of declaring coal ash a hazard- gases; and sludge from scrubbers de- zesky, environmental engineering ‘‘We are going through a process to
ous waste. The agency is developing signed to remove sulfur dioxide — a hodgepodge, even within states. questions about mine-placement of branch manager in the cabinet’s Divi- identify any activities that currently
disposal standards that are scheduled cause of acid rain — from air emis- Consider that Kentucky — which ash to Nat Noland, president of the sion of Waste Management. are not regulated or are under-regu-
to be released in early 2004. sions. now says that new ash or scrubber Indiana Coal Council. LG&E Energy, the parent company lated,’’ Method said. ‘‘Ash ponds
The regulators’ task won’t be easy, The environmental questions arise sludge landfills most likely will need It’s important that Indiana coal of Western Energy, said in a letter
from other natural elements in ash — would fall on that list.’’
though. Despite the situation in Pines, state-of-the-art plastic liners, water companies be allowed to return ash to from its legal staff to state officials
there remains a contentious debate small amounts of heavy metals or The moves address only some of
collection systems, and pollution mines, because some power compa- that it had done nothing wrong with the critics’ concerns.
over the threat posed by coal ash. metal-like substances, such as boron, monitoring wells — permits power nies don’t have enough space for the the Hancock County ash. The com-
Industry leaders describe coal com- selenium, arsenic and manganese. companies to put ash in ponds with pany said the Hancock project was The coal industry will likely fight
material, Noland said.
bustion waste as environmentally be- The effects of ash may be subtle or no plastic liners and has no require- This is something that Illinois al- like many others the state allowed. any tax on ash disposal, said Noland
nign or nearly so. drastic, from changes in blood chem- ment for groundwater monitoring lows, and Indiana coal companies The company later decided not to of the Indiana Coal Council.
‘‘There are some very legitimate istry to birth defects to death, Hop- near or beneath the empoundments. need an even playing field with its proceed with the project, said Caryl ‘‘We are so close to seeing what the
concerns in certain situations, but kins said. Kentucky does require power competitors across the state line, he Pfeiffer, environmental affairs direc- EPA is going to recommend to the
generally there should not be concern Most of the evidence of harm to plants to test the effluent from ash said. tor for LG&E Energy. states,’’ he said. ‘‘To get ahead of the
for heavy metals (washing) out of wildlife came from eight power plant ponds for toxicity to fish. Indiana In addition, the practice has proved McCaslin said the state never
sites in such states as North Carolina, EPA at this point does not make a lot
coal ash,’’ said Bill Caylor, executive does not. to be safe, Noland said. would have known about the dump-
director of the Kentucky Coal Associ- Texas and Wisconsin, Hopkins said. of sense.’’
Randy Bird, project consultant for Indiana Department of Natural Re- ing if he hadn’t called. ‘‘I know we
ation. ‘‘This public fear of heavy met- None of the studied sites were in Ken- Lexington-based EnviroPower, dis- Kentucky’s environmental protec-
sources officials agree with Noland’s gotta have power. But I think the state
als is blown out of proportion.’’ tucky or Indiana. agreed that the liner for the com- needs to get a better handle on this tion has called for several changes,
An internal EPA document from assessment. among them:
However, the critics are moving at pany’s Kentucky Mountain Power stuff.’’
March 2000 concluded there were 11 The relatively impermeable soil on
least some in government to suggest plant in Knott County was necessary. State officials agreed with McCas- Ω The establishment of statewide
cases of proven water pollution from the bottom and sides of the strip mine
that coal ash needs to be treated with ‘‘We agreed to line it just to expe- lin’s assessment. groundwater standards.
coal waste in the United States — pits will slow the movement of any
more caution. dite our permitting process. We didn’t Absent a permit-approval process,
‘‘Even though certain regulations with none in Kentucky or Indiana. potential contaminants, said Bruce Ω Groundwater monitoring at all
feel like we wanted to fight the bat- Stevens, director of the DNR’s Divi- sometimes inspectors must rely on
are on the books, are they protec- Environmental groups and scientists tle.’’ tips from the public or local officials, ash ponds.
tive?’’ asked Bob Logan, commission- hired by them as consultants maintain sion of Reclamation. Ω Greater scrutiny of ash when
Kentucky also prohibits the place- ‘‘We look and see where people’s said Bill Burger, manager of the
er of the Kentucky Department for there are dozens more cases, includ- ment of ash in strip mine pits within waste management division’s field op- used as construction fill, including
Environmental Protection. ‘‘We have ing several in Indiana. drinking-water wells are,’’ Stevens
four feet of the water table — a law said. ‘‘We are going to err on the side erations branch. groundwater monitoring.
always had a question. Is this material Much of the problem involves older that has virtually prevented the prac- As a remedy, the agency has re-
landfills or ponds, where ash has of caution.’’ Patton administration officials have
what it’s supposed to be?’’ tice. cently recommended that power
been exposed to water for many The well shared by Zink and the little hope that the General Assembly
But it’s a different story in Indiana, plants and their haulers come to it
Where’s the harm? years, said Donald S. Cherry, a pro- where filling mines with ash has Divelys ‘‘is a mile away from the
first with their construction fill plans will tighten the rules on coal ash. Too
Typically, power plants put their fessor of aquatic ecotoxicology at Vir- raised the hackles of environmental- nearest mining,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘Their — even if the law doesn’t require it. many people in Kentucky think envi-
ash in landfills or settling ponds. In- ginia Tech University, who conducted ists and some residents since the state well supply won’t be impacted.’’ ‘‘For the majority of cases, individ- ronmental regulations have gone too
dustry officials say this is designed to research for the Indianapolis-based authorized the practice in 1988. The But Roland Baker, a neighbor, said uals are coming to us ahead of time,’’ far and are too costly, said Logan, the
keep pollution from getting into the Hoosier Environmental Council. ash can be dumped by itself or mixed nobody is worried about the wells go- said Robert Daniell, director of the environmental protection department
environment. ‘‘The longer the fill sits there with dirt directly in the water table, ing bad in just a year or two. ‘‘It may waste management division.
not take until our grandkids,’’ he said. commissioner. So his cabinet is look-
At Cinergy’s Gallagher plant in through time, there will be seepage and with no long-term monitoring or Using ash for construction fill is a ing at what can be done within exist-
New Albany, Ind., for example, com- down-gradient,’’ Cherry said. ‘‘It’s long-term financial assurances that ‘‘But by then, nobody will be respon- legitimate practice and one that the
pany environmental managers point just a matter of time.’’ sible.’’ ing laws, he said.
future pollution problems will be cor- EPA wants to encourage, said Dennis
visitors to an egret that is fishing in rected. Ruddy, the EPA’s point person on Regulators may not need to look
one of two ash ponds, and say the States set own rules This worries Perry and Linda Dive-
Construction fill further than the state’s new power
coal waste issues. But that’s only if
ponds, which drain into the Ohio Riv- For 25 years, the EPA has exempt- ly, and their neighbor, Ethel Zink. concerns ash is tested in advance for potential plant siting law, which requires great-
er after ash has settled to the bottom, ed coal ash from its ‘‘hazardous The three share a drinking-water Environmentalists are also worried toxicity, and if its placement is engi- er scrutiny of new power plants.
are coexisting well with nature. waste’’ definition. This decision, well near the Black Beauty Coal Co. about one increasingly popular use of neered to minimize its contact with ‘‘The legislature made it clear that
‘‘We’re monitoring so many of which it ‘‘tentatively’’ reaffirmed two mine in southwestern Indiana near Pi- ash as construction fill. water, he said. if (new) plants are going to site here
these facilities, and they’re showing years ago, exempts the ash from more mento, south of Terre Haute. Black Kentucky and Indiana allow any ‘‘If you back up a dump truck and in the state, they will be expected to
no impact,’’ said R. James Meiers, restrictive and expensive disposal Beauty has one permit to dump ash volume of ash to be used this way, fill up a hollow with no pre-planning pay the full cost of doing business
coal combustion waste expert for Cin- methods, including detailed tracking and is seeking a second one. requiring neither liners nor ground- and engineering . . . that is what we
ergy Power Generation Services. of waste shipments, special liners and ‘‘If we don’t have water, we’re not water monitoring. here,’’ said Tom FitzGerald, director
are trying to avoid.’’
Some scientists back the industry’s long-term pollution monitoring. going to have anything here,’’ Zink Some cities, with rugged terrain of the environmental group Kentucky
assertions. The absence of federal regulations said. ‘I’ve never heard anything good and few buildable flat surfaces, are An eye to the future Resources Council, who helped write
‘‘You get the impression we are leaves each state to set its own rules about ash.’’ grateful for what amounts to free or EPA officials came close to classify- the bill. ‘‘They can’t shift those costs
drowning in the stuff,’’ said Tom for disposal. The result is a regulatory Black Beauty officials referred nearly free construction material from ing ash destined for landfills, ponds . . . 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 Stack
A device used to remove sulfur dioxide (SO2) from the boiler A structure used to
exhaust (flue) gas. exhaust and disperse
Electric utilities use coal to the hot flue gases from
generate nearly 57 percent WASTE: FLUE GAS DUSULFURIZATION WASTE the boiler.
of our nation’s electricity (SCRUBBER SLUDGE) Waste produced during the
Steam Generator (Boiler) process of removing sulfur gases from the flue gases.
A large vessel that contains an Transformer
assembly of tubes in which An electromagnetic device that increases the output voltage of the
water is heated to steam that generator while reducing the current (amperage) to make the
is then used to drive a turbine. transmission of electricity more efficient.
A device used to remove the fly ash
from the boiler exhaust (flue) gas.
A nozzle device, generally
located in the lower boiler WASTE: FLY ASH
walls, which introduces the A light gray or tan powder that is the largest
pulverized coal into the boiler byproduct of coal combustion. Fly ash
and mixes with the correct becomes entrained with, and carried out of
amount of additional air to the boiler by, the hot exhaust (flue) gases.
burn the fuel.

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.

AIR Cooling tower

Primary air fan/ pulverizer A device that cools the
Generator cooling water by evaporating
Devices that prepares coal for burning by A machine that transforms the mechanical
grinding it to a fine powder, drying and mixing WASTE: BOTTOM ASH a small portion of it and
energy of the turbine into electric energy. reducing the amount of heat
it with hot air to create an efficiently A coal-combustion byproduct that
combustible fuel. collects on the wall of the boiler, that is released to rivers, lakes
eventually falling to the bottom, where it and streams.
is collected. Bottom ash is a ceramic-like
material. Cooling water
Outside water used to condense the
WATER steam passing through the condenser.


Pipes from plant dump effluent Roughly 30% of coal
into first pond. Water from that combustion waste goes toward
pond flows into second pond. so-called "beneficial re-use."
Cleaner water drains to river. Some of those uses:
■ Asphalt
■ Concrete aggregate
■ Insulation
■ Abrasive grit
■ Road and building fill
■ Cement
■ Road and building filler
■ Waste stabilizer
Coal ash mixed with water poured into first of two settling Aerial view shows the hollow that is being filled in with coal ■ Wallboard
ponds at the Gallagher power plant in Southern Indiana. ash at the Lodestar Energy Inc., dump in Ivel, Ky.



Air kept cleaner, but scientists study if risk migrates

By JAMES BRUGGERS group based in Boston. He is a will need to be scrutinized to pre- leading national critic of how vent pollution.
The Courier-Journal power companies manage their ‘‘We’re not going to have the
ash. same (ash) materials,’’ said Bob
They call it ‘‘clean-coal tech- Researchers at the University Logan, commissioner of the Ken-
nology.’’ It involves new methods of Kentucky and laboratories tucky Department of Environ-
of burning coal and scrubbing around the country are beginning mental Protection.
smokestacks that offer hope of to turn their attention to the sub- For example, both President
cutting emissions from power ject. Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative and
plants. What the scientists find will an- competing legislation sponsored
That’s a potential relief for swer not only questions about the by Sen. Jim Jeffords, a Vermont
asthma sufferers and others with potential risk of new forms of independent, seek to reduce mer-
lung problems in Kentucky, Indi- ash, but also the extent to which cury, a toxic trace metal, in
ana and other coal-burning the ash can be used commercial- power-plant emissions.
states. ly. Pollutants or other impurities Keeping it out of the air could
But some of the new technol- could threaten groundwater or concentrate it in the ash — rais-
ogies produce more combustion render the coal waste useless as ing the risk of groundwater con-
waste — up to 60 percent more an ingredient in products such as tamination from landfills and set-
with one type of burner — that cement or wallboard. tling ponds.
must be disposed of or used com- ‘‘We have made as a national ‘‘This is a potential issue,’’ said
mercially. And some people, in- decision that air pollution control Tom Feeley, a project manager at
cluding environmentalists and is the Number 1 priority without the federal National Energy Tech-
Kentucky environmental regula- considering some of the solid- nology Laboratory in Pittsburgh.
tors, are concerned that ash may waste issues that go with it,’’ said Preliminary studies suggest
begin to contain larger quantities Tom Robl, associate director of that mercury, which can cause
of potentially harmful pollutants. UK’s Center for Applied Energy brain damage in humans, does
‘‘Clean-coal technology is a Research. not wash out of coal ash, Feeley
code word for ‘Let’s just generate ‘‘As a result, we’re going to said.
more waste than ever before,’ ’’ have more solids to handle.’’ ‘‘But if you are taking the mer-
said Jeffrey Stant, an Indiana Watching closely will be envi- cury out of flue gas, it’s going to
consultant to the Clean Air Task ronmental regulators, who know go someplace.’’
Force, a nonprofit advocacy that any changes in ash content

Source: Indiana ESTILL
Department of
Environmental K E NTU C KY KNOTT
Management and
Kentucky Natural MUHLENBERG
Environmental A worker last month loaded gypsum for transport from the Louisville Gas & Electric plant in Bedford, Ky. The plant
Protection Cabinet
BY STEVE DURBIN, THE COURIER-JOURNAL produces a synthetic gypsum using calcium sulfate waste from the plant’s scrubbers.