The problems concerning the coal ash spill in Tennessee have caused people in a number of states to be greatly concerned. Millions of tons of toxic coal ash are piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a situation the government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has done nothing about. An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to one that ruptured last month in Tennessee.
Records indicate that states storing the most coal ash in ponds are Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama. The man-made lagoons hold a mixture of the noncombustible ingredients of coal and the ash trapped by equipment designed to reduce air pollution from the power plants. Over the years, the volume of waste has grown as demand for electricity increased and the federal government clamped down on emissions from power plants.
Alabama citizens have every reason to be concerned. Utilities operate coal ash retention ponds at nine locations in Alabama. Alabama Power Co. has retention ponds at its six coal-fired steam plants stretching from Gadsden to the Mobile area. The Tennessee Valley Authority has ponds at its two coal-fired plants in north Alabama. The ninth location is operated by PowerSouth Energy Cooperative at its Lowman Power Plant in Leroy in southwest Alabama.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management reports that the nine locations are the only ones in Alabama. ADEM inspects discharges from the ponds that flow into Alabama waters and an agency spokesperson says it has requirements to make sure the ponds have adequate capacity to receive large amounts of rain without overflowing. The Department says it does that by regulating the amount of space between the top of the pond’s contents and the top of the retaining walls.
Coal ash results from burning coal in the power plants. Water is used to capture small particles of ash to keep it from going up smoke stacks. Then the watery mix is stored in ponds. The ash is periodically dredged from the ponds and used to make concrete or to build roadbeds. The Tennessee disaster will require states to make sure these regulatory efforts are effective.
Source: Associated Press
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