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Another Expert Report Finds No Health Impacts from Coal Ash Spill

            An expert medical study of 214 people who live near the Kingston, Tennessee, coal ash spill has concluded they have suffered no serious health effects from the incident and are not expected to develop health problems in the future.

            The study was led by epidemiologist Donna Cragle, vice president of Occupational Exposure and Worker Health for Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Physician medical toxicologists from Vanderbilt University Medical Center also assisted in the study.

           Study participants received extensive medical testing that included health history, physical examination, spirometry (breathing test), chest x-ray, routine urinalysis, complete blood count, blood chemistries, and biological monitoring tests. The biological monitoring tests were chosen to examine for evidence of effects on the body related to exposure to fly ash and included testing for aluminum, arsenic, barium, beryllium, chromium, cobalt, copper, nickel, selenium, thallium, and vanadium.

            “Analysis of the available data from this baseline medical examination suggests no expected long-term effects on physical health from current levels of exposure,” the report concluded.  The report contains detailed information about all of the tests that were conducted.  You can see a copy of the complete report here: http://www.recyclingfirst.org/pdfs/44.pdf

            The report is the latest in a string of studies that conclude the largest spill of coal ash in history poses little or no actual threat to human health:

  • In December 2009, the Tennessee Department of Health, under cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, completed a draft Public Health Assessment that concluded people would not be harmed by touching the ash, using municipal water, or breathing the air near the site.  (For more information, look here: http://www.recyclingfirst.org/blog/?post=16).
  • In June 2010, researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced that fish downstream of the coal ash spill appear healthy based on the first year of testing. (For more information, look here: http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2010/jun/10/fish-affected-by-fly-ash-spill-appear-healthy/?print=1).

Coal ash disposal standards should be improved to prevent future spills like Kingston from happening. But disposal standards can be improved without going to the extreme of classifying coal ash as a “hazardous waste” as many anti-coal environmental activists advocate.

New coal ash disposal regulations recently proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency include both “hazardous” and “non-hazardous” approaches that contain essentially the same engineering standards for landfills.  The main reason for putting a hazardous option on the table is to give the federal EPA enforcement authority.  (See here for more explanation: http://www.recyclingfirst.org/blog/?post=59).

Setting aside the irony that a failure at a federal (Tennessee Valley Authority) facility is being used in an attempt to justify greater federal enforcement authority over coal ash disposal, these facts remain:  1. Coal ash does not qualify as a hazardous waste based on its toxic characteristics.  2. Actual health effects from the largest coal ash spill in history appear to be minimal to non-existent.

Coal ash landfill standards should be improved without saddling the material with an unwarranted “hazardous” designation that will destroy one of the most successful recycling efforts in American history.  To do what’s best for the environment, we should promote the safe recycling of coal ash as a preferred alternative to disposal and keep it out of landfills to begin with.

If you agree, you can easily use this tool to submit comments to the EPA: http://www.recyclingfirst.org/form.php  

 

Posted by: on: Aug 18, 2010 @ 06:34