TWiE Episode 32. Bring On The Lawyers!
I listened to this on the plane home from the TTXGP race at Mosport (see post in the EV Racing folder) and thought it was an absolutely fascinating discussion. Primarily the topic was Coal and Qir Quality and Coal Combustion Products (aka Coal Ash). One of the guests is a lawyer with Engironmental Integrity who had a lot of jaw dropping things to say about the toxicity of coal ash, and the ways it is being used. I wrote up some notes some of which are below.
Coal combustion waste aka coal ash is currently second largest industrial waste stream in the US. 136 million tons of coal ash a year. Enough to fill 10 empire state buildings a month. Would fill a steady line of rail cars from the north pole to the south pole. First largest waste stream is from coal mining. Coal mining is done either by tunneling underground or by "mountain top removal" which is a prettified way of saying "mountain destruction".
What happens to ash? Power plants dump in pits, ponds. 40% is "recycled" aka beneficial reuse of coal ash. Here's where some of the jaw dropping information was given, the ways that coal ash is being reused. However it's important to first understand that coal ash is extremely toxic - lots of heavy metals and whatnot. Heavy metals do not decompose when they get into the environment, they're what's termed "persistent" and further when animals ingest them and then other animals eat the ones who'd ingested the heavy metals, well, there is this "bioaccumulation" effect where the higher up in the food chain you go the more toxicity per animal.
It used to be that the toxicity went out the smokestack into the atmosphere and became things like acid rain etc. But the power companies are using "scrubbers" which remove a lot of stuff from the exhaust output of the power plant, but it doesn't destroy the stuff it just prevents it from going into the atmosphere. This stuff is captured into the ash that's collected by the plant. aka Coal Combustion Products aka Coal Ash. The Coal Ash is now highly toxic full of heavy metals and stuff. See an article I wrote about this a few months ago: Scrubbed emissions from coal plants ending up in the water
Some beneficial use (aka recycling) methods are "encapsulated" meaning the coal ash is entirely contained inside something and "cannot" escape. Like, it can be mixed with concrete and used to make buildings. Other methods are unencapsulated, for example the guest claimed it is sometimes used in the winter to melt snow and ice on the roads. Which just makes ones jaw drop
There's a lot more .. highly recommended.
Join Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield and Bob Tregilus as they are joined by pre-record guests Lisa Widawsky from EnvironmentalIntegrity.org and Andy Goodrich from Nevada Air Quality Management as they discuss some of the legal and environmental issues surrounding air quality and pollution from fossil fuel mining.