Megan Lynch

(KMOX) — Imagine acres of ponds — not brimming with wildlife — but full of millions of tons of ash from power plants.

It’s reality at dozens of sites in Missouri and Illinois.

This week KMOX News told you about fears those ponds are leaching dangerous metals into the environment.

But experts say there may be something better.

As you stroll along the sidewalk, you may be walking on coal ash.

“The risks there are very, very small.”

Dr. Paul Chugh says using coal ash in concrete binds up components such as lead, selenium and arsenic.

Chugh is a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and recently served as a federal advisor on coal combustion byproducts. “Most of that material, if you use it in an appropriate form, most of that risk is eliminated.”

Ameren Corporation tells KMOX it recycles more than half it’s coal waste — most goes into the creation of concrete — even bags of Quickrete you might buy at the home improvement store.

The Environmental Integrity Project, which is worried about ash stored in ponds, tells KMOX it hopes recycling efforts increase.

But one possible re-use has the Project’s Jeff Stant very concerned.

Imagine the mighty Mississippi River being held in it’s banks by a levee made of coal ash. “It’s a bad idea,” says Stant.

But it’s being seriously considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which held hearings this summer to talk to citizens about the option. At the meeting, Corps officials said it was the least expensive option for repair of levees, but that public safety would come first. One person told them, it was a “recipe for disaster”.

Stant agrees. He says coal ash just can’t stand up to moisture. “And that’s part of the reason that you have levees made out of coal ash collapsing when they’re constantly saturated with water.”

Corps officials will make a final decision by the end of the year.

Coal ash is also being used as fill for some road projects. Ameren Corporation’s Mike Menne says those roadways have to be designed carefully. “You have to make sure that there are sufficient liners, clay liners, earthen liners, underneath the ash. You also have to make sure that over the top of these projects it will be asphalt or concrete or something like that so that basically water doesn’t percolate down.”

But will beneficial uses continue, if the U.S. EPA determines coal waste should be treated like hazardous waste? More on that Friday.

Part One – Coal Ash: Harmless or Hazard?

Part Two – Coal Ash: Is one resource destroying another?

Copyright KMOX Radio


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