Farmers Encouraged To Spread Toxic Coal Ash On Fields

Despite what coal industry executives and opponents of renewable energy research would have you believe, America is running out of this filthy, costly, fossil fuel- and not a moment too soon.

Businessweek Magazine recently reported that “the federal government is encouraging farmers to spread a chalky waste from coal-fired power plants on their fields to loosen and fertilize soil even as it considers regulating coal wastes for the first time.”

Just over a year ago, an enormous coal ash spill took place at Tennessee’s Kingston TVA Coal Plant, spewing 525 million to 1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge (enough to cover 400 acres in coal ash about 6 feet deep) into the Emory River, potentially contaminating the water supply for Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

With clean up efforts STILL underway for the TVA spill, which the EPA called “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history,” both the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture are now brazenly promoting what they call the wastes’ “beneficial uses” in an effort to deal with the excessive ash piling up around the nation’s coal-fired plants.

The waste material is produced by power plant “scrubbers” that remove acid rain causing sulfur dioxide from plant emissions. A synthetic form of the mineral gypsum, it also contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other heavy metals, reports Businesweek.

Although the EPA and USDA claim that these toxic metals are only found in trace amounts in the coal ash, environmentalists are shocked that they would take such a gamble with farmer’s crops and the nation’s food supply.

“Basically this is a leap into the unknown,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “This stuff has materials in it that we’re trying to prevent entering the environment from coal-fired power plants and then to turn around and smear it across ag lands raises some real questions.”

With cleanup costs of the Tennessee spill expected to clear $1 billion before they are completed in 2013, it seems suspect that these federal agencies would be willing to inflict the presence of coal ash on these delicate lands without knowing more about how it could potentially affect both the quality of the food and the water supply.

The Businessweek article also noted that “since the EPA/USDA partnership began in 2001, farmers’ use of the material [FGD gypsum] has more than tripled, from about 78,000 tons spread on fields in 2002 to nearly 279,000 tons last year, according to the American Coal Ash Association, a utility industry group.

The EPA is expected to announce its proposals for regulation early next year, setting the first federal standards for storage and disposal of coal wastes.

TAKE ACTION by signing the Adopt the Clean Slate Agenda – Because “Clean Coal” is a Myth petition on Care2.

Image: Coal waste spill in TN
Credit: © Jerry D. Greer

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Robert Taylor
Robbie Taylor5 years ago

When will we realize that coal is dirty. Period!

KangHan Weng
KangHan Weng5 years ago

wat a crazy idea~!!!

Kelly M.
Kelly R.5 years ago

I'm with the majority here, and I think this is a terrible idea, and probably quite dangerous.

Elaine Dixon
Elaine Dixon5 years ago

kind of dumb to be doing that

Carolyn N.
Carolyn N.5 years ago

This sounds like asbestos all over again.

Am Am
Am Am5 years ago

Of course this is not a good idea! Who in their right mind would even fathom how detrimental this idea of putting toxic ash on fields could be? There could be runoff into the water, which leads to thousands of marine life being unjustly killed. Then, along with possible pesticides that farmers place, even though it still isn't a good idea (some bugs work as pesticides), the wildlife that sometimes munch on the fields could die as well! What kind of government would do this? One that is out of their right mind surely would. Such a terrible idea...

Teresa Mac Tavish


Heather D.
Heather D.5 years ago

I don't know what people are thinking sometimes!!!

Lars S.
Larry S.5 years ago

Good post Stephanie. Now, if we can just get everyone to listen...

Ann W.
Ann W.5 years ago

Arizona has its mining cleanup headaches. Wonder if we can export a few ideas?