Environmental

Why is toxic coal ash used to fertilize crops we eat?

We’ve all been told that eating fruits and vegetables can make us healthier. But some crops could make us sick. It’s the fertilizer that’s to blame. Farmers are being encouraged by the U.S. government to dust their fields with waste from coal-firing facilities. It’s a win-win situation, says the government. Coal ash helps loosen and fertilize soil for the farmers, and it helps reduce a waste disposal issue for the coal-firing plants.

That coal ash is a synthetic form of the mineral gypsum, produced by power plant “scrubbers” that remove sulfur dioxide from the smoke stack emissions. The chalky substance also contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other heavy metals that have been linked to serious health problems, like cancer, liver damage and neurological complications.

So why scatter toxic ash over the fruits and vegetables we eat? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the toxins are in such small amounts that they aren’t harmful to crops or humans. That’s hardly reassuring news considering a year ago coal ash wasn’t classified as a hazardous material, and plants that stored coal ash waste weren’t subject to federal inspections.

It wasn’t until the wall of a coal ash impoundment pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plant in east Tennessee broke, sending a wave of coal ash onto a nearby community, that the government began to take a closer look at the waste produced by power plants. It found that coal ash contained higher levels of toxins that originally thought and was in fact dangerous to humans.

The TVA now faces lawsuits from hundreds of victims of that spill. Many residents lost property, but several have reported health problems ranging from nosebleeds to breathing complications. Some, including a small child, have even tested positive for heavy metal in their bloodstream.

Now that light has been shed on the real dangers of coal ash, perhaps the government might reconsider its stance on the safety of coal ash as a fertilizer for the foods we eat.

Source: Food Consumer