Federal Officials Promote Use of Coal Waste on U.S. Farms
Federal officials are promoting the use of a chalky residue from coal-burning power plants as a fertilizer on U.S. farms, even as regulators simultaneously consider new rules for the waste, which contains small amounts of toxic metals.
During the Bush administration, U.S. officials began promoting the agricultural use of a synthetic form of gypsum, a calcium-rich substance produced by the "scrubbers" that remove acid rain-causing sulfur from coal plant emissions. As a cheaper alternative to mined gypsum in fertilizing crops, use of so-called flue gas desulfurization gypsum, or FGD gypsum, has tripled since 2001.
And with the waste piling up at coal-fired power plants around the country, officials saw it as a more "beneficial use" than simply burying it in landfills. But FGD gypsum also contains mercury, arsenic, and lead, and some environmentalists warn that not enough is known about the environmental and health effects.
Federal officials insist the levels are so low that they pose no hazards to health. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is crafting the first U.S. regulations for coal waste storage and disposal in response to a major coal ash spill from a Tennessee power plant that flooded 300 acres on Dec, 22, 2008 and caused about $1 billion in damage.
Update: EPA's pending decision on regulating coal ash waste
from power plants, expected this month, will be delayed for a short
period due to the complexity of the analysis the agency is currently
As part of her commitment to ensuring the protection of public health and the environment regarding coal ash, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson had set a deadline to complete the regulatory decision before the close of this year. However, the agency is still actively clarifying and refining parts of the proposal.
For more information: Yale Environment 360