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Hazards from Fly Ash Merit Attention

Written By krishna on Monday, October 31, 2011 | 8:07 AM

More than a decade has passed since the notification for fly ash use was passed. It has been estimated that about one acre per MW of land is needed for ash disposal. Union Ministry of Environment & Forests had issued a notification dated September 14, 1999 for use of fly ash. This appears to be a myopic step that disregards environmental and health concerns of the present and future generations.

Fly Ash Utilisation Programme, a Technology Project in Mission Mode of Government of India commissioned during 1994, is a joint activity of Department of Science & Technology, Ministry of Power and Ministry of Environment & Forests, wherein Department of Science & Technology is the nodal agency and Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) is the implementing agency.

The Mission was converted into a programme called Fly Ash Utilization Programme in 2002. In 2007, the programme was shifted to Department of Science and Technology.

The apprehension that the ash laden with hazardous components being used for bricks will leach out of the bricks remains valid. It appears to be a case of transferring the present problem on the future generation.

A December 2008 Maryland court decision levied a $54 million penalty against Constellation Energy, a Baltimore, Maryland based energy producer, trader, and distributor that operates over 35 power plants in 11 states which had performed a "restoration project" of filling an abandoned gravel quarry with fly ash; the ash contaminated area waterwells with heavy metals. C&EN/12 Feb. 2009, p. 45. Groundwater contamination

It is a fact that coal contains trace levels of arsenic, barium, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, thallium, selenium, molybdenum and mercury, its ash will continue to contain these traces. Therefore it cannot be dumped or stored where rainwater can leach the metals and move them to aquifers. The bricks will face rain water for sure.
In December 2008 the collapse of an embankment at an impoundment for wet storage of fly ash at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant resulted in a major release of 5.4 millon cubic yards of coal fly ash, damaging 3 homes and flowing into the Emory River. Cleanup costs may exceed $1.2 billion. This spill was followed a few weeks later by a smaller TVA-plant spill in Alabama, which contaminated Widows Creek and the Tennessee River, USA.

Fly ash contains trace concentrations of heavy metals and other substances that are known to be detrimental to health in sufficient quantities. Potentially toxic trace elements in coal include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, radium, selenium, thorium, uranium, vanadium, and zinc. Approximately 10 percent of the mass of coals burned in the United States consists of unburnable mineral material that becomes ash, so the concentration of most trace elements in coal ash is approximately 10 times the concentration in the original coal.

A 1997 analysis by the US Geological Survey (USGS) found that fly ash typically contained 10 to 30 ppm of uranium, comparable to the levels found in some granitic rocks, phosphate rock, and black shale.

A revised risk assessment approach may change the way coal combustion wastes (CCW) are regulated, according to an August 2007 US EPA notice in the Federal Register. ^ Environmental Protection Agency (August 29, 2007). Source: "Notice of Data Availability on the Disposal of Coal Combustion Wastes in Landfills and Surface Impoundments" (PDF). 72 Federal Register 49714.

In June 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives held an oversight hearing on the Federal government's role in addressing health and environmental risks of fly ash. House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources (June 10, 2008). Source: "Oversight Hearing: How Should the Federal Government Address the Health and Environmental Risks of Coal Combustion Wastes?"

The US National Academy of Sciences noted in 2007 that "the presence of high contaminant levels in many CCR (coal combustion residue) leachates may create human health and ecological concerns." Source: Managing Coal Combustion Residues in Mines, Committee on Mine Placement of Coal Combustion Wastes, National Research Council of the National Academies, 2006.

In the light of the above, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests needs to revisit its notification dated September 14, 1999 whereby it allowed “use of fly ash, bottom ash or pond ash in the manufacture of bricks and other construction activities and utilisation of ash by Thermal Power Plants and provided specifications for use of ash-based products.

A amended Notification was been issued on 27th August, 2003, extending the geographical coverage upto a distance of 100 km from Thermal Power Stations. A High Level Committee (HLC) has also been constituted with representatives from concerned Ministries, Technical Institutions and All India Brick and Tile Manufacturers Federation to review the implementation of the provisions of fly ash notification. Besides monitoring the implementation of the provisions of the Notification, the Committee will also provide policy guidance on utilization of fly ash in various sectors/developmental activities including incentives/disincentives required. HLC primary task was to promote fly ash.

From the above sub-ordinate legislations, the Ministry had made use of fly ash bricks mandatory within 100 km radius of coal or lignite based thermal power plants. Now a trans-disciplinary inquiry team must be constituted to examine its environment and health impact to ascertain the situation.
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