Ken Ward of the Charleston, West Virginia Gazette maintains a fantastic blog called Coal Tattoo that reports on everything to do with the Appalachian coal industry and much that’s relevant to national and global coal markets. Yesterday’s post was about a new study of the aftermath of the 978,000,000 gallon Tennessee coal ash spill at the end of 2008. Nearly two years after the spill, Charles Schmidt’s study in Environmental Science and Technology (subscription required to access the full article) finds:
- First, the surface release of coal ash with high levels of toxic elements (As = 75 mg/kg; Hg = 150 μg/kg) and radioactivity (226Ra + 228Ra = 8 pCi/g) to the environment has the potential to generate resuspended ambient fine particles (<10 μm) containing these toxics into the atmosphere that may pose a health risk to local communities.
- Second, leaching of contaminants from the coal ash caused contamination of surface waters in areas of restricted water exchange, but only trace levels were found in the downstream Emory and Clinch Rivers due to river dilution.
- Third, the accumulation of Hg- and As-rich coal ash in river sediments has the potential to have an impact on the ecological system in the downstream rivers by fish poisoning and methylmercury formation in anaerobic river sediments.
The study also indicates that EPA’s testing methods may be inadequate to measure the full extent of contamination from the spill. EPA is currently deliberating on a proposal to regulate coal ash disposal as hazardous waste under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Industry is lobbying vigorously against such regulation.