Ashes of Fire
Every year, coal-fired power plants in the U.S. produce more than 100 million tons of ash, a byproduct of the burning process containing heavy metals or metal-like substances such as boron, selenium, arsenic, and magnesium. The energy industry claims the ash is benign, but many others fear that it is bad for the environment and human health. Those concerns are all the more pressing in the face of a White House- and business-backed national coal resurgence. In Kentucky alone, the industry, backed by the Bush administration, has proposed building eight new plants, which would generate six million additional tons of ash per year. Regulation of the ash is spotty at best; two years ago, the U.S. EPA found that 86 percent of groundwater samples taken near ash landfills contained arsenic levels 10 times higher than currently permissible, but the agency stopped short of declaring the ash a hazardous waste.