A Prime Example That the Stigma Is Real

            Anti-coal environmental activists keep telling the EPA that it’s OK to label coal ash “hazardous when disposed” because people will still want to recycle it.  Here’s an excellent example of just how disconnected from reality that position is:

   is a resource that offers education and training in the field of sustainable construction, including the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.  It serves the architects and engineers who decide whether to use coal ash in building projects.

            In an “advice column” last week, a reader asked the question: “I saw a 60 Minutes episode on fly ash and it said it was a toxic material, but this is still being used in a lot of green products. Is it toxic? Is it safe? What is the real story?”

            The answer provided by an “expert” at included gems like this:

            “Coal ash contains many toxic metals, including arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, cadmium and other toxic metals. Coal ash, if left unchecked, can leak into ground water and be extremely hazardous to breathe. So there’s no doubt this isn’t something most of us would feel comfortable having hang around our neighborhood.”

In fact, many of the building materials these architects and engineers use every day contain the same metals. The expert is correct in pointing out that it only becomes a health issue if the metals can get out of the materials and into people in significant concentrations.  But she makes no effort to determine if that is the case for common construction uses of coal ash. Nor does she make any attempt to describe any of the numerous ways coal ash use benefits the environment and improves the performance of building materials.  Instead she concludes:

            “I don’t have a definite black and white answer on this myself, so I’ll just leave things in the gray area for now (no pun intended) and allow you to sort out the decision for yourself.”

            If a “expert” can’t sort this out, do we really expect every other architect and engineer to do so?  Of course not. If it’s hazardous “when disposed” why is it not hazardous when used in a building project?  There are answers to that question that satisfy the EPA and environmental activists, but the people who really matter – the users of the recycled material – won’t take the time to understand them.

            Coal ash disposal regulations can be improved without creating an unwarranted stigma for the coal ash resource.  EPA should abandon its unworkable “hazardous when disposed” approach.

            To read the entire article, go here or here, where it was reprinted by a widely distributed construction industry information resource:

Posted by: on: Feb 23, 2010 @ 11:55