By Sabri Ben-Achour
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering revamping the way it regulates coal ash and is holding public hearings to get input from the public. People have come to testify from as far away as Puerto Rico, and it's of particular concern to our area as well.
Coal ash is the byproduct of coal fired electricity,cinders basically, and it contains significant amounts of heavy metals including Arsenic and Mercury. It's largely been left up to states to regulate it, and environmentalists say that's been disastrous.
"It is getting into the drinking water, people are drinking this stuff, and what's equally important-it's getting into our rivers," says Vernice Miller Travis, vice chair of the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice.
She points to Gambrills, Maryland where wells were contaminated with metals from coal ash disposal sites after Baltimore Gas and Electric dumped coal ash in an unlined quarry. Brandywine Maryland is suing Mirant Power over groundwater contamination.
"We need EPA to have the strongest regulatory tools possible to regulate coal ash," she says.
But to do that, the EPA would have to re-classify coal ash as "special waste," basically, hazardous waste. Thomas Adams, with the American Coal Ash Association, says that would stop people from recycling coal ash in cement for example, and instead encourage them to put it in landfills.
"The hazardous waste label we believe will stigmatize these products and affect the market's acceptance of these products," says Adams.
The EPA has not said when it expects to make a final decision.