Two years after spill EPA unsure how to classify toxic coal ash

Two years after an impoundment pond containing toxic coal ash at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fossil fuel plant broke, spilling a billion gallons of sludge onto 300 acres of rural east Tennessee, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still isn’t sure whether to recommend that coal ash be classified as a hazardous material. Shortly after the spill, the agency was charged with recommending a classification for the material as part of a federal investigation into the environmental disaster.

More than 400 people have filed a total of 55 lawsuits against the TVA. Several hundred more people are said to be waiting for possible class-action certification. One lawyer estimated it would take more than 170 years to litigate the case should the agency force separate trials for every claim either already filed or pending class-action status, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The spilled coal ash is being blamed for destroyed homes, damaged properties, and a litany of health problems.

Coal ash is currently not regulated by the federal government, which critics say caused lax standards among coal ash impoundment facilities like the east Tennessee TVA plant. One proposal the EPA is considering would regulate coal ash as hazardous material, which would then fall under federal oversight. Another proposal would keep coal ash as non-hazardous but would require enforcement through “citizen” lawsuits.

The EPA said in a statement that is does not know when regulations will be finalized.