Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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February 28, 2014

As NC debates, other states empty coal ash dumps

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (AP) — Inside pits containing 1.7 million tons of coal ash at the Jefferies Generating Station, the hydraulic arm of a big orange excavator scooped up the toxic gray sludge and dropped it into the back of a dump truck.

Once loaded, the truck drove down a muck-covered road from the Santee Cooper power plant located about 30 miles north of Charleston to a nearby factory where the water-logged ash is dried out and used to make concrete.

Just across the state line in North Carolina, where a massive Feb. 2 spill from a Duke Energy dump coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge, top officials have suggested this very type of ash-removal operation in South Carolina and other states could be dangerous.

Experts say that is not the case.

At sites across the country, coal ash dumped decades ago is dug up and recycled to make concrete, asphalt and other building products. In Wisconsin, for example, the utility We Energies is recycling ash for use in an interstate construction project.

"There is more and more interest in using the ponded ash as it becomes obvious those older unlined ponds are probably going to be facing some kind of regulation in the not-so-distant future," said Thomas Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, an industry group is funded by utility companies that include Duke.

Following a massive coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn., five years ago, the U.S. Environmental Agency has been developing regulations for how coal ash can be disposed of. The agency is set to issue those rules in December.

For decades, utilities have looked for commercial uses for coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired electricity generation that includes poisons such as arsenic, lead and mercury. About half of the more than 100 million tons of coal ash created each year in the United States is recycled for uses federal officials have deemed safe as long as the toxic materials are encapsulated in the finished products.

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