Rep. Davis fights for people of Perry County in coal ash debate

Toxic coal ash recovered from a massive spill site in east Tennessee was deemed too dangerous by the state of Pennsylvania to be stored there, but some Alabama officials welcomed that coal ash with open arms. One U.S. Representative from Alabama is standing up for the people, urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish consistent standards at the federal level that would fully address legitimate concerns about the content of coal ash waste.

“If coal ash poses an unacceptable level of risk, inconsistent state standards should be immediately replaced with national guidelines that would put the safety of the people in one community on the same level as families living in another,” said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and circulated around the House of Representatives.

Coal ash is not considered a hazardous material, and thus does not fall under federal regulation. However, improvements in coal ash burning facilities over the decades have made the smoke released into the air much cleaner. Those toxins instead settle in the coal ash left behind. Tests show that coal ash can contain dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese and barium – toxins that have linked to serious health issues such as cancer, liver damage and neurological complications. That toxic ash is stored in dry or wet landfills throughout the country.

A December 2008 coal ash impoundment breach at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plant brought the question of the safety of coal ash into the spotlight. Last year’s coal ash spill dumped more than a billion gallons of coal ash on to a neighboring community, knocking houses off their foundations, destroying property, and contaminating nearby waterways. Environmentalists called it the largest environmental disaster of its kind in U.S. history. The TVA began an estimated three-year, $1 billion cleanup of the area, which includes relocating the recovered coal ash to landfills in other counties and states. The first shipments of recovered coal ash have already been shipped by railcar to a landfill in Perry County, Alabama.

Storing the recovered coal ash in Perry County will generate about $3 million in storage fees and bring in about 30 jobs to the poverty-stricken, predominantly black county, which some local officials consider a boon. But people who live and work there say they fear they are sitting on a time bomb that could one day destroy their property and livelihoods.

Earlier this year, Davis met with residents of Perry County who voiced their concerns, asking if there are any guarantees that the dangerous toxins will leach into drinking water or create any health problems now or in the future. Davis’ letter to the EPA aims to address those concerns and move forward EPA efforts to establish federal safety standards that are balanced among all states.

Source: Selma Times Journal