JUNE 2009

Application denied for Tennessee coal ash use
Use ruled out due to contaminants

The Tennessee coal ash spill covered hundreds of acres and spilled into streams and rivers.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) denied a request by the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring coal ash that spilled into the Emery River in Tennessee in December to Pennsylvania for reclamation of abandoned coal mines because the ash does not meet Pennsylvania’s strict environmental standards, according to Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger.

“Coal ash that has been previously disposed of and stored as a waste material, and spilled onto adjacent land and into a river is classified as residual waste and does not meet the certification requirements for beneficial use under Pennsylvania law,” Hanger said. “This ash material was accidentally released from a disposal impoundment and mixed with unknown materials in the river water and bottom sediment. DEP only certifies coal ash for mine reclamation in Pennsylvania that is not contaminated with other materials and can meet our stringent chemical requirements.”

In December 2008, the failure of an above-ground ash disposal impoundment at Harriman, Tennessee, spilled more than five million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emery River, adversely affecting the river and destroying homes and property.

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the owner of the impoundment, the Tennessee Valley Authority, to dredge the ash material from the river as part of a cleanup plan. The authority applied to DEP in April to approve this ash source for use in the reclamation of mine lands in Pennsylvania.

DEP denied the request for certification because the material does not meet the definition of “coal ash” as defined in the Solid Waste Management Act and Pennsylvania’s Residual Waste regulations.

DEP regulates the beneficial use of coal ash and other materials in the reclamation of abandoned mine lands. This is done under strict environmental standards created to protect public health, safety and the environment while helping to alleviate Pennsylvania’s abandoned mine lands problem – generally acknowledged as the most extensive in the nation.

The ash certification process involves identification of the ash source, the type of coal ash generation process and the fuel sources utilized, and a determination of the physical and chemical properties of the ash. Coal ash and coal ash leachate are analyzed for 37 different chemical constituents and properties. The ash leachate must consistently contain concentration levels lower than the certification guideline limits in order to be approved for statewide beneficial use at mine sites.

More than 11 million tons of coal ash were used in the reclamation of coal mine sites in Pennsylvania in 2008. The majority of the ash was generated by burning waste coal, which resulted in removal of old waste piles that were contributing to stream pollution.

Pennsylvania has approximately 180,000 acres of abandoned mine lands dating back to when coal mining began in the state in the 1700s. More than two billion tons of waste coal sits in piles across the state and an estimated 4,600 miles of rivers and streams are degraded by mine drainage.