Why Fly Ash Should Not be Designated as a Hazardous Waste

Scientific Evidence:
According to the American Coal Ash Association nearly three decades of EPA study and formal determinations do not support designating coal combustion by-products (CCPs) as a hazardous waste. Using the criteria outlined in Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) published by the EPA, coal combustion products have been evaluated for toxicity, ignitability, corrosivity and reactivity and been found to be well below the criteria in Subtitle C that would require a hazardous classification.
Entities in addition to the EPA, such as state agencies, the Department of Energy, the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Recycled Materials Resource Center, the Utility Solid Waste Activities group, the Electric Power Research Institute, academia and electric utilities have tested coal combustion products such as fly ash and have not found evidence to designate them as hazardous waste.
EPA Programs Promoting the Use of Fly Ash:
In 2003, the EPA, in partnership with the Department of Energy, the Federal Highway Administration, the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group and the American Coal Ash Association created the Coal Combustion Products Partnership, or C2P2. In the last three years, the US Department of Agricultureā€ Agriculture Research Service, the Electric Power Research Institute and the National Ready Mix Concrete Association have joined C2P2. The purpose of this partnership is to promote the beneficial use of Coal Combustion Products (CCPs) and the environmental benefits that result from their use. The specific products included under this partnership are fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization gypsum. 
The partnership currently works with federal and state governments and industry organizations to address legal, institutional, economic, market, informational and other barriers to the beneficial use of CCPs. The EPA has listed the following specific goals on its website:

  • Reduce adverse effects on air and land by increasing the use of coal combustion products to 50% in 2011 from 32% in 2001.
  • Increase the use of CCPs as a supplementary cementitious material in concrete by 50%, from 12.4 million tons in 2001 to 18.6 million tons in 2011, thereby decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions from avoided cement manufacturing by approximately 5 million tons.

According to the EPA website there are numerous benefits associated with the beneficial use of CCPs. http://www.epa.gov/osw/partnerships/c2p2/

  • Environmental benefits: include reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced land disposal requirements, and reduced utilization of virgin resources.
  •  Economic benefits: include reduced costs associated with coal ash and slag disposal, increased revenue from the sale of CCPs and savings from CCPs in place of other more costly materials.
  • Performance benefits: can result from the physical and chemical characteristics of CCPs and include greater resistance to chemical attack, increased strength, and improved workability. High fly-ash content concrete can be used for high performance, long-life pavements which are designed to last for 50 years – twice the life of conventional pavements.

The efforts of the EPA in conjunction with the Coal Combustions Products Partnership have been very successful since 2003. In 1999, CCPs utilization was estimated to be at about 30% or approximately 30 million tons annually. In 2008, that number had risen to 43% or approximately 56 million tons annually, nearly double what was reported in 1999. If the EPA were to change its position and classify CCPs as a hazardous waste it would reverse all the progress that has been made since 1999 to increase the beneficial use of these products and would dramatically increase the amount of material that would need to be disposed. 
Economic Evidence:
According to a study performed by the American Coal Council the beneficial utilization of CCPs had direct and indirect economic benefits of approximately $4.5 billion in 2005. The economic benefit has grown substantially since 2005 because production and utilization of CCPs have increased by nearly 10% and green building practices have become more prevalent. CCPs have been incorporated into the “green supply chain” which has in turn, created jobs and produced countless long term benefits such as reducing green house gas emissions and reducing the volume of virgin material required for many projects.
The Freedonia Group published a report in 2009, which states that sales of concrete that included recycled content such as fly ash reached $9.5 billion in 2008. This figure represents 15% of all green building materials demand. Demand for concrete with recycled content has grown at an average of 8.3% per year and is expected to grow to $14.3 billion per year in 2013. If fly ash is classified as a hazardous waste the growth of fly ash in concrete products would be eliminated.
At an American Concrete Institute’s Board Advisory Committee on Sustainable Development meeting held in 2009, members where asked what would happen if CCPs were designated as a hazardous waste. The response was almost unanimous.
“Any such designation would virtually eliminate the use of fly ash in concrete, despite the fact that fly ash is bound in the matrix. The perception that Portland cement concrete contained “hazardous” constituents would stop ready mix producers, specifiers, concrete products manufacturers and others from incorporating fly ash in their various concrete applications.”

If the EPA were to assign a hazardous waste designation for fly ash and other CCPs it would most likely eliminate the beneficial use of these valuable resources. Even if a hazardous waste designation was only for the purpose of disposal operations, producers, marketers, and users of these products would be faced with the perceived risks and liability associated with marketing, handling, transporting, and utilizing CCPs. A hazardous waste designation would have the unintended consequence of dramatically increasing the volumes of material disposed per year and eliminate the significant environmental, economic, and sustainability benefits accomplished through beneficial use. The cost to society of such an action would be great due to the additional need for new hazardous waste landfills and the need to mine additional virgin mineral resources. Most importantly a hazardous waste designation would destroy environmental practices that currently reduce the United States greenhouse gas emissions. Currently fly ash is beneficially used to replace cement in concrete and is attributed to reducing the United States greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 15 million tons per year.