Pharyngula

Let’s talk about clean coal

When power plants burn coal to produce energy, the coal doesn’t just vanish into the atmosphere to cause global warming. No, there’s a substantial amount of left-over sludge called coal ash, a nasty mess that is enriched for toxic heavy metals. It is seriously nasty stuff. This glop has to be stored, somewhere, usually piled up and walled-off, because it’s not healthy for anything.

Behold what happens when the containment walls fail.

This is happening right now, here in the United States. Yesterday, a retaining wall failed, and 500 million gallons of coal ash — the vile grey slime in the video — poured down into the tributaries of the Tennessee River, the water supply for Chattannooga and environs.

We’re looking at a major environmental catastrophe, bigger than any oil spill, and most of the news media are silent about it. I checked CNN, MS-NBC, even Fox News…not a word. The local newspapers have a few articles, and the regional blogs are trying to follow it, but otherwise, I guess we’re going to pretend it didn’t happen.

Comments

  1. #1 H.H.
    December 23, 2008

    Word is the Bush administrations has the Army Corps of Engineers frantically weaving a rug large enough to sweep this under.

  2. #2 LadyH
    December 23, 2008

    I was just watching cnn and they said that Bush just signed an order saying that energy companies dont’ have to have a hundred foot buffer between their operations and streams :P
    No link, it jsut came up after I saw this.

  3. #3 cervantes
    December 23, 2008

    I remember many years ago when an oil refinery in New Jersey caught fire and destroyed a major viaduct. The incident was barely reported outside of NJ. The water main break in Bethesda was major news all day, on the other hand. It’s odd what the pack goes for and what they ignore. Some factors are predictive (missing white women, for example), but there’s a stochastic element as well.

  4. #4 CaptainKendrick
    December 23, 2008

    So…does this mean that everybody will lighten up about Three Mile Island and learn how to stop worrying and love nuclear power?

  5. #5 Brad D
    December 23, 2008

    That makes me ill.

  6. #6 Matt
    December 23, 2008

    Quick, somebody call FEMA

  7. #7 Aaron Kinney
    December 23, 2008

    So much for government regulation. Ever notice that the countries with bigger governments make more pollution and have more environmental catastrophes than those with smaller governments?

  8. #8 Glen Davidson
    December 23, 2008

    And there’s mountain-top mining, etc.

    Nonetheless, while I would be reluctant to build new coal plants even if “clean coal technology” is both developed and proven (far from the case today), retrofitting at least some of the older plants with CO2 capture should be considered if the technology works.

    It is unlikely that 50% of our generating capacity will be abandoned quickly, so cleaning it up might be an important improvement over what we have now.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  9. #9 H.H.
    December 23, 2008

    So…does this mean that everybody will lighten up about Three Mile Island and learn how to stop worrying and love nuclear power?

    We just learned that energy companies can’t be trusted to safety treat and store coal ash, and your response to this to is to say let’s make more radioactive waste? Yeah, not a very bright idea.

  10. #10 Kel
    December 23, 2008

    So much for government regulation. Ever notice that the countries with bigger governments make more pollution and have more environmental catastrophes than those with smaller governments?

    Just because one government does regulation poorly, it doesn’t mean that no regulation will work better. It’s like saying that because the financial market collapsed that capitalism is dead.

  11. #11 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Why is this “seriously nasty stuff”?

    The article in the link says that trace contaminants are increased by a factor of 10…that really isn’t much.

    And an expert in the article states that the risks are low.

    Let’s stay scientific, even though it is an ugly mess.

    Ironically, Harriman, TN is very close to Oak Ridge, TN.

  12. #12 H.H.
    December 23, 2008

    So much for government regulation. Ever notice that the countries with bigger governments make more pollution and have more environmental catastrophes than those with smaller governments?

    No, I’ve not really ever noticed that. I’ve noticed that countries with bigger industry make more pollution and have more environmental catastrophes than those with less development, but I’ve not seen greater government regulation lead to greater environmental harm. In fact, I would say the reverse is always the case.

  13. #13 ignoramus
    December 23, 2008

    And the solution is…?

  14. #14 GK4
    December 23, 2008

    Isn’t the marketing term “clean coal” simply about sulfur in the coal? I don’t think it has anything to do with carbon dioxide or rapid climate change.

    I feel bad for all the folks in Appalachia who just had their water supplies taken away from them. What a wonderful time of year to get that kind of present.

  15. #15 Ranson
    December 23, 2008

    This is something near and dear to me, as my dad spent the latter part of his career on the government side of dealing with coal production runoff (rather than the burn residue, like this) in West Virginia. He spent more than one period of heavy rainfall out on mine sites directing the people who were shoring up impoundment dams. Many of them are HUGE, and they are filled with some nasty shit. Several states have outlawed them, but their use continues, because no one has come up with an alternative (one that still allows coal to be mined, that is). I recommend checking into the Buffalo Creek incident and the more recent Martin County spill that occurred in Kentucky.

    Like I said, I grew up with a lot of this. Working as a regulator in coal country if often a balance between “shut ‘em all down” and “waiting for people to ask the right questions so you can actually do some enforcement”. It depends on which kind of crook is in the governor’s office, usually. I know a lot of people who had careers stall because they didn’t toe the “XXXX energy company is always our friend” line. Let that administration change in the right direction, though, and watch the warrants fly.

  16. #16 Rich Lawler
    December 23, 2008

    A very nasty mess and very say, but looks like it is not a major concern with respect to radioactivity (not that I would feel comfortable living with that sludge in my backyard, however).

    Some info on radioactivity in coal/fly ash from the USGS:

    http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/1997/fs163-97/FS-163-97.html

  17. #17 10ch.org
    December 23, 2008

    Interesting failure of the news media. Perhaps they are trying their best, although it is quite true that they publish what is most convenient for them to publish. Well, how much failure should I put in the news media anyways?

  18. #18 Rich Lawler
    December 23, 2008

    meant to write “sad” not “say”

  19. #19 AEBrosc
    December 23, 2008

    A part of the reason why that gray sludge is so bad is because of the fact that the coal dust has much higher concentrations of heavy metals than the coal that they burn (then filter the emissions). Part of a project I was working on in collage was dealing with the Hg in coal and getting it out of these ponds.
    I don’t remember the numbers (I worked on the modeling side of the project) but I remember being told that the difference in the amount of Hg in coal and Hg in the coal dust was significant.
    The reason why Hg is so bad is because it readily binds to the sulfur atoms in proteins, after which the proteins usually stop working correctly. And the organic stuff which if i remember correctly was also present in the coal dust can be much worse than the normal Hg2+ because it can pass though the barriers protecting the cell making it much more effective.

  20. #20 Sven DiMilo
    December 23, 2008

    trace contaminants are increased by a factor of 10…that really isn’t much.

    I agree. 10 is a low number…I could count that high without even using my toes, I betcha. What could possibly be wrong with digging up coal from deep underground, burning it to ash (and thereby concentrating its uranium, thorium, mercury, cobalt, etc. content by only a factor of 10–a mere 900% increase), mixing large quantities of the ash with water to create a slurry, then releasing a mere 500 million gallons of this slurry into streams and reservoirs? Try not to over-react like this, PZ.

  21. #21 tceisele
    December 23, 2008

    I’ve been working on research projects dealing with coal fly ash for years now, and honestly, it isn’t that bad. It has about the same chemical composition as your average volcanic ash. Even the article that PZ linked to as an example of how horrible it is, was just saying that it had more radiation than some unspecified waste from nuclear power plants, and admits near the end that the levels of radiation are too low to seriously worry about. This spill is bad, but it is a mechanical dirt spill that will pour a lot of silt into the rivers and kill a lot of fish by smothering them, not a major radiochemical hazard.

    And, as time goes by, less and less fly-ash ends up in impoundments, because it turns out to be actually pretty useful material. It makes an excellent cement extender in concrete, in some cases as much as 50% of the cement can be replaced by fly-ash, and it actually tends to improve the durability of the concrete. The only factor that makes some of it unusable is that some furnaces don’t completely burn out all the carbon, and so some fly-ashes have too high of a carbon content to use in cement. Better furnace designs can take care of that, and there are other applications under development where the carbon content doesn’t matter and that can use the high-carbon fly-ash. In the long run, fly-ash will be a completely marketable product.

  22. #22 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    A 900% increase of a small quantity is still a small quantity.

    Different contaminants cause different biological effects.

    To just be scared is religion.

  23. #23 Boudica
    December 23, 2008

    MSNBC had a story yesterday about it.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28353102/

    Nothing about toxicity of the ash, though.

  24. #24 MikeM
    December 23, 2008

    Sadly, this ignores the amount of mercury burning coal sends straight into the atmosphere, which ends right up in our oceans. We’re killing our oceans.

    Not very smart.

    It’s good that people can see all this in one place, though. No matter how much mercury we send into the oceans, if we can’t see it, “it doesn’t exist.” People need to see it to appreciate it.

  25. #25 Glen Davidson
    December 23, 2008

    Isn’t the marketing term “clean coal” simply about sulfur in the coal?

    This seems to me to be a reasonably good answer:

    Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what’s clean coal? That depends a little on whom you ask. The industry-sponsored American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity defines it as “any technology to reduce pollutants associated with the burning of coal that was not in widespread use” prior to regulations from 1990. By that definition, the group can call any newer coal-based power plant clean. Indeed, as the ACCCE never hesitates to point out, the nation’s coal power plants are 70 percent “cleaner” than they were when it comes to regulated pollutants like sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide.

    The Lantern supposes America’s electricity producers deserve credit for those advances–although it’s worth noting that many of them came in response to new laws like the Clean Air Act. But that doesn’t change the fact that–kilowatt for kilowatt–coal remains just about the most carbon-intensive energy source out there. From the perspective of global warming, at least, the kind of “clean coal” we have now still isn’t very clean.

    Outside the industry, “clean coal” usually refers to something different: namely, the idea that the carbon dioxide produced from burning coal in power plants might be captured and stored, preventing it from contributing to climate change. There are reasons to be skeptical about this idea. While carbon-capture technology has been demonstrated on a small scale, a larger project in Illinois hit a major snag when increases in its projected cost put its funding into doubt. Indeed, building the infrastructure necessary to transport and store all that carbon presents its own huge challenge. Even supporters within the utilities industry admit that a target of 2020 for large-scale tests of the technology is “very aggressive.”

    So should you support politicians who support clean coal? It’s certainly better than dirty coal–and the United States isn’t likely to be rid of either one for the foreseeable future. If nothing else, the greatest benefit might come from exporting carbon-capture technology to other countries that are even more coal reliant than we are. Federally supported research for cleaner energy is a worthy cause, and while it is hard to know the most cost-effective way to spend those dollars, carbon-capture technology seems like a plausible option.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2201661/

    To be sure, the coal industry wants to call CO2-spewing plants “clean,” but most of the rest of us don’t think that it is.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  26. #26 Peter Mc
    December 23, 2008

    The burst water main in Maryland made BBC and Sky (Fox offspring) News in the UK. Nothing about this.

  27. #27 MikeM
    December 23, 2008

    The local Tennessee papers are covering it, too.

    Google news is your friend.

    http://www.tennessean.com/article/20081223/GREEN02/812230370/1001/RSS6001

    Someone can correct me if (when) I’m wrong: Doesn’t coal gassification, of the type proposed by various companies (e.g., Alter NRG), solve a lot of these problems? What are the problems with this method (aside from the mining issues, which still exist)?

  28. #28 Jason A.
    December 23, 2008

    tceisele #21:

    Even the article that PZ linked to as an example of how horrible it is…admits near the end that the levels of radiation are too low to seriously worry about.

    It said the exposure is low when the plant is functioning properly
    From the article:

    Robert Finkelman, a former USGS coordinator of coal quality who oversaw research on uranium in fly ash in the 1990s, estimates that for the average person the by-product accounts for less than 0.1 percent of total background radiation exposure. According to USGS calculations, buying a house in a stack shadow–in this case within 0.6 mile [one kilometer] of a coal plant–increases the annual amount of radiation you’re exposed to by a maximum of 5 percent.

    The ‘average person’ they’re talking about doesn’t have 4-6 feet of this stuff on their front lawn. Even the people they’re talking about in the ‘stack shadow’ are being calculated for trace exposure through leaching.

  29. #29 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    The question is…how much more radioactive is the coal ash than the lawn soil?

    It won’t be much…so having 4-6 feet of ash doesn’t really matter.

    It wouldn’t be too bright to eat the ash…but it wouldn’t be too bright to eat the lawn soil.

  30. #30 Epinephrine
    December 23, 2008

    A 900% increase of a small quantity is still a small quantity.

    Different contaminants cause different biological effects.

    To just be scared is religion.

    Really? So a small family, with one child, is not that different from a small family with 10 children? That’s not small anymore.

    Yes, different contaminants have different biological effects, but few contaminants are linear; non-linearity is very typical in toxicology. Ten times the dose doesn’t equal ten times the effect – it can be all or nothing; below threshold and above threshold.

    Being worried about potential risk isn’t “religion” – it’s sense. The next step is to determine the actual risk. Trouble is that it’s not just one compound, and it’s hard to get information on the toxicity of a whole pile of crap mixed together. You can quite easily have synergistic effects.

  31. #31 WRMartin, I.S.
    December 23, 2008

    I wondered about the water quality in Watts Bar Lake but then the TN Wildlife Resources Agency says to not eat the fish from that body of water anyway. Already contaminated with PCBs. Move along. Nothing to see here. Just a bunch more sludge in the ‘drainage canal’.

  32. #32 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    The risks for radiation and the radioactivity in coal are well defined.

    Google:

    “The Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII” by the National Academies of Science.

    It is the meta-study which the NRC and EPA use to establish legal limits for radiation exposure. It discusses the risks for clearly.

    I’ve already read it…let me know what you conclude.

  33. #33 Planeten Paultje
    December 23, 2008

    This reminds me of an incident in the ’80s. I was swapping TV channels when I came across a live news flash on Germany’s 3rd network. A nuclear research something institute building in München had been contaminated as a result of an accident with radioactive material. The footage showed people in white encounter suits taking measurements outside the building.

    It was clear that this was big. So I started swapping to other channels for news, but there was never any mention of the incident ever again anywhere. The only thing I came across a few months later was a small article, safely tucked away inside a week-day newspaper. It stated that an amount of radioactive material had explosively sublimated and contaminated the insides of the building.

    A few days after the German news flash aired I called several Dutch news programs, only one was prepared to hint at them being gagged. Mind you, not one news outlet in the whole of Europe carried this news as far as I have been able to establish. The governments successfully clamped down on the *entire* spectrum of news channels. To me this was a major eye-opener.

  34. #34 LV
    December 23, 2008

    MSNBC, with its title, seems to try to make it pass as a minor incident:

    “Public utility dike bursts, floods 8 to 10 homes”.

    (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28353102/)

  35. #35 Epinephrine
    December 23, 2008

    My first thought had nothing to do with radiactivity, and everything to do with soluble heavy metal salts, contamination of the soil, concentration of the metals by plants, etc.

  36. #36 Jadehawk
    December 23, 2008

    Ever notice that the countries with bigger governments make more pollution and have more environmental catastrophes than those with smaller governments?

    citation severely needed.

    what I have noticed is that the more heavily a government is invested in its industry, as opposed to its voting populace, the heavier the environmental damage.

  37. #37 Tophe
    December 23, 2008

    It’s not just about the risks from radioactivity – there’s also relatively high levels of carcinogenic metals in that fly ash.

    http://www.epa.gov/osw/partnerships/c2p2/pubs/ccwcontbl.pdf

  38. #38 A Health Physicst
    December 23, 2008

    PZ’s linked to an article on radioactivity and he said it was “seriously nasty stuff”.

    It is radioactive and it has higher concentrations of non-radioactive heavy metals, but only up to a factor of 10 above the coal itself (because burning reduces coal mass and volume by about a factor of 10).

    Some contaminants have been removed from the ash via the burning of the coal (and released into the air).

    Let’s keep it real.

  39. #39 Nifty
    December 23, 2008

    There’s an ad campaign going on in the DC Metro now about clean coal. Metro Center is covered with posters that read “Clean coal is a myth,” and with pictures of Bigfoot, aliens, and mermaids holding chunks of coal.

  40. #40 Fargo
    December 23, 2008

    Good grief!
    Wow man. As to nuclear power, I heard yesterday some power plant, I can’t recall where offhand aside from it being in the States, was found to have a bad battery for one of the safety systems. In itself not really a big deal, I mean, things go dead, but it had been that way for four years.

    I certainly don’t have any answers, which leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed, but here’s what I see as the major problems-
    1) There are too many people.
    2) The too many people are consuming too much power.
    3) Some of those too many people are caught up in their own game rules to the point of only seeing their own game, which doesn’t have any pieces to represent damages to living systems, except, perhaps, as an abstract notion related to court cases.
    4) Most of the rest of those too many people are either playing their own games, trying to present something to system that cannot accept the concepts foreign to itself, or are mired down in trying to translate what they’re saying into another game system’s language that they lose momentum.

    But that’s just one a-hole’s take on it, you know?

  41. #41 John Phillips, FCD
    December 23, 2008

    Jadehawk, yep, as evidenced by Bushco’s recent midnight signings weakening environmental regulations in particular, before he does a runner next month.

  42. #42 MickyW
    December 23, 2008

    I worked on boiler shutdowns on coal-fired power stations in South Africa for many years. I’ve breathed in a lot of this stuff. As far as I know it’s completely sterile, but I don’t know a lot about its chemical properties, and the radiation aspect is certainly news to me. I also never gave much thought to what happens to it once it’s been flushed out of the boiler. I’ve heard it can be used in cement production and also to make bricks, but with the collapse of the property market worldwide this is perhaps not a great prospect right now.

  43. #43 Johnny
    December 23, 2008

    Isn’t the ash also used as filler in drywall or a similar building material? I was of the understanding that it was fairly inert stuff; there’s a retention area just east of Lawrenceville, WV (overlooking the Ohio River!) named “Little Blue” because of the color the ash gives the water in which it is dumped. Google Lawrenceville, WV and check-out the satellite map image; the color is quite distinctive for the hills of WV…

  44. #44 Brodie
    December 23, 2008

    @ Fargo #40

    I prefer this a-hole’s take on it.

    There’s too many men
    Too many people
    Making too many problems
    And not much love to go round

  45. #45 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Yes, the ash is used to make bricks.

    It is one of the contributors to indoor, radioactive radon exposure. The radium in the coal ash decays to radon which gets into your house. Since most people keep their homes well buttoned-up to reduce heating/cooling costs, the radon can build up in the home.

    Homeowners will likely get more radiation exposure staying in their homes, than being outside next to a pile of ash, where the wind will prevent radon accumulation.

  46. #46 Jason A.
    December 23, 2008

    A Health Physicist #29

    It won’t be much…so having 4-6 feet of ash doesn’t really matter.

    If they have calculated a 5% exposure increase due to leaching from a containment pond a kilometer away, I’m guessing 400 acres of direct environmental exposure outside your front door does matter.

  47. #47 woody
    December 23, 2008

    With any luck at all, there’ll soon be a mortal pandemic that will lower the numbers of humans clamoring for energy back down to more sustainable levels…And if not, well, then, I’m guessing the West’s plans to de-populate Africa will yield more space for “us” in the long run, too…And Chattanooga sucks.
    So all is not lost…

  48. #48 JackH
    December 23, 2008

    to those posters calling for nuclear, clean coal, etc. next time it’s day-time: look up. surprise! a giant nuclear reactor (big enough to produce enough energy for the evolution on a nearby planet of intelligent life, no less) not eight light-minutes away! look at all that energy! and the best bit? it’s all free!

    woah! did i just say free? as in, for everyone? isn’t that, like, unethical or something? sure sounds suspiciously communist to me…

  49. #49 Sven DiMilo
    December 23, 2008

    Sure, it’s not so bad.
    Unless you, you know, live(d) in those habitats.

    Hopkins , W.A., J.D. Congdon, and J.K. Ray. 2000. Incidence and impact of axial malformations in larval bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) developing in sites polluted by a coal burning power plant. Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry 19(4):862-868.

    Hopkins , W.A., C.L. Rowe, and J.D. Congdon. 1999. Elevated trace element concentrations and standard metabolic rate in banded water snakes (Nerodia fasciata) exposed to coal combustion wastes. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 18(6):1258-1263.

    Hopkins, W.A., Rowe, C.L., and Congdon, J.D. 1999. Increased maintenance costs and trace element concentrations in banded water snakes, Nerodia fasciata, exposed to coal combustion wastes. Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry 18 (6):1258-1263.

    Hopkins, W.A., M.T. Mendonça, and J.D. Congdon. 1999. Responsiveness of the hypothalamo-pituitary-interrenal axis in an amphibian (Bufo terrestris) exposed to coal combustion wastes. Comparative Biochemistry & Physiology C 122 (2):191-196.

    Hopkins, W.A., M.T. Mendonça, C.L. Rowe, and J.D. Congdon. 1998. Elevated trace element concentrations in southern toads, Bufo terrestris, exposed to coal combustion wastes. Archives of Environmental Contamination & Toxicology 35:325-329.

    Hopkins, W.A., M.T. Mendonça, and J.D. Congdon. 1997. Increased circulating levels of testosterone and corticosterone in southern toads, Bufo terrestris, exposed to coal combustion wastes. General & Comparative Endocrinology. 108:237-246.

    Ganser, L.R., W.A. Hopkins, L. O’Neil, S. Hasse , J. H. Roe, and D.M. Sever. 2003. Liver histopathology of the southern watersnake, Nerodia fasciata fasciata, following chronic exposure to trace element-contaminated prey from a coal ash disposal site. Journal of Herpetology 37(1):219-226.

    Hopkins, W.A., Roe, J.H. , Snodgrass, J. W., Staub, B.P. , Jackson, B.P., and Congdon, J.D. 2002. Trace element accumulation and effects of chronic dietary exposure on banded water snakes (Nerodia fasciata). Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry 21(5): 906-913.

    Rowe, C.L., W.A. Hopkins, and J.D. Congdon. 2002. Ecotoxicological implications of aquatic disposal of coal combustion residues in the United States : a review. Environmental Monitoring & Assessment 80:207-276.

    Jackson, B.P., P. Shaw-Allen, W. A. Hopkins and P.M. Bertsch. 2002. Trace element speciation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) from a fly ash settling basin by liquid chromatography-ICP-MS. Anal Bioanal Chem 374: 203-211.

    Hopkins, W. A., J. H. Roe, J. W. Snodgrass, B. P. Staub, B. P. Jackson, and J. D. Congdon. 2002. Effects of chronic dietary exposure to trace elements on banded water snakes (Nerodia fasciata). Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry 21 (5):906-913.

    Hopkins , W.A., J.W. Snodgrass, J.H. Roe, B.P. Staub, B.P. Jackson, and J. D. Congdon. 2002. Effects of food ration on survival and sublethal responses of lake chubsuckers (Erimyzon sucetta) exposed to coal combustion wastes. Aquatic Toxicology 57(3):191-202.

    Rowe, C.L., W.A. Hopkins, J.D. Congdon. 2001. Integrating Individual-based Indices of Contaminant Effects: How Multiple Sublethal Effects May Ultimately Reduce Amphibian Recruitment from a Contaminated Breeding Site. The Scientific World 1:703-712.

    Rowe, C.L., W.A. Hopkins, C. Zehnder, and J.D. Congdon. 2001. Metabolic costs incurred by crayfish (Procambarus acutus) in a trace element-polluted habitat: further evidence of similar responses among diverse taxonomic groups. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part C 129:275-283.

    Hopkins, W.A., J. W. Snodgrass, B. P. Staub, B. P. Jackson, J. D. Congdon. 2003. Altered swimming performance of benthic fish (Erimyzon sucetta) exposed to contaminated sediments. Archives of Environmental Contamination & Toxicology 44(3):383-389.

    Bryan, L. W.A. Hopkins, J.A. Baionno, B.P. Jackson. 2003. Maternal Transfer of Contaminants to Eggs in Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscala) Nesting on Coal Fly Ash Basins. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 45:273-277.

    Snodgrass, J.W., W.A. Hopkins, J. Broughton, D. Gwinn, J.A. Baionno, J. Burger. 2004. Species-specific responses of developing anurans to coal combustion wastes. Aquatic Toxicology. 66:171-182.

    Staub, B.P., W.A. Hopkins, J. Novak, and J.D. Congdon. 2004. Respiratory and reproductive characteristics of Eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) inhabiting a coal ash settling basin. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 46:96-101.

    Roe, J.H., W.A. Hopkins, and B.P. Jackson. 2005. Species- and stage-specific differences in trace element tissue concentrations in amphibians: implications for the disposal of coal-combustion wastes. Environmental Pollution 136:353-363.

    Roe, J.H., W.A. Hopkins, S.E. Durant, J.M. Unrine. 2006. Effects of competition and coal combustion wastes on recruitment and life history characteristics of salamanders in temporary wetlands. Aquatic Toxicology. 79:176-184.

    Kuzmick, D.M., Mitchelmore, C.L., Hopkins, W.A., and C.L. Rowe. 2007. Effects of coal combustion residues on survival, antioxidant potential, and genotoxicity resulting from full-lifecycle exposure of grass shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio Holthius). Science of the Total Environment373:420-430.

    [sorry about that...just making a point. Carry on.]

  50. #50 Epinephrine
    December 23, 2008

    Ok – do you want me to start linking articles about the dangers of inhaling particulate fly ash? Don’t dismiss the risks. It is real. Sure, it may be wet right now, but this stuff will dry out. Some metals will leach into the soil, some ash will be airborn and inhaled. Metals that leach into the soil can bio-accumulate.

    You’re awfully dismissive, I can cite papers too if you’d like – but it’d be a simple matter of searching pubmed for them – I don’t have the time to delve deeply into the area. Just a quick perusal shows articles on bioaccumulation in fish, on acute lung damage by inhalation, in vivo free radical formation (see, that’s that pesky oxidative damage), bioaccumulation of selenium by plants, potentiated effect of Nickel and Vanadium in particulate fly ash…

    I studied the brain (and to some extent drugs), not metal ions and soil chemistry, so I’m no expert – but it doesn’t take a lot of digging around to see that there are potential risks.

  51. #51 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    “If they have calculated a 5% exposure increase due to leaching…”

    Has this become a Creationist blog?

    No one said that…the article said that at most you would expect a 5% annual increase from living in the shadow of an exhaust stack.

    At most!!!!

    Please stop the religiosity and get back to science.

  52. #52 brokensoldier, OM
    December 23, 2008

    Posted by: A Health Physicst | December 23, 2008 4:12 PM

    Some contaminants have been removed from the ash via the burning of the coal (and released into the air).
    Let’s keep it real.

    So the fact that we’re not only getting the air contaminants, but now – due to this spill – we’re also getting the remainder of contamination from the processing of the coal this ash came from should be putting us at ease? Did you just argue that it isn’t so bad because a good deal of the contaminants have already been released into the environment?? That is some seriously weird logic. Hilarious, but flawed nonetheless.

  53. #53 Watchman
    December 23, 2008

    Sven FTW.

  54. #54 Quidam
    December 23, 2008

    Fly ash is actually useful stuff, as has been pointed out it can be substituted for Portland cement in concrete, reducing the carbon footptint of the concrete.

    The ‘radioactivity’ scare is ridiculous. The levels are trivial compared to say having smoke detector or a granite countertop in your house. A concrete countertop made of fly ash concrete would emit less than a granite one.

    This is a science blog isn’t it?

  55. #55 Johnny
    December 23, 2008

    The next step in nuclear power:

    http://www.hyperionpowergeneration.com/index.html

    Yes – It’s legit, however there are certainly hurdles to overcome for the industry.

  56. #56 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    “….it doesn’t take a lot of digging around to see that there are potential risks.”

    Duh and double duh….this is a Creationist blog!!

    Of course there are potential risks…there are real risks.

    But that doesn’t make it “seriously nasty stuff”.

    There are real risks from driving, eating bad foods, breathing in exhaust fumes, etc. But those are not seriously nasty things….living is a risk.

  57. #57 brokensoldier, OM
    December 23, 2008

    Posted by: A Health Physicist | December 23, 2008 4:38 PM

    “If they have calculated a 5% exposure increase due to leaching…”
    Has this become a Creationist blog?
    No one said that…the article said that at most you would expect a 5% annual increase from living in the shadow of an exhaust stack.
    At most!!!!
    Please stop the religiosity and get back to science.

    Hey, the constant suggestion that commenters are resorting to religion is getting tired. It’s a specious comparison, and if that isn’t painfully obvious to you, then I’m afraid your psuedonym is the product of some seriously wishful thinking – if not an outright lie.

    But how about this:

    Unfounded assertions – check
    Repeating debunked objections – check
    Insistence on calling science a religion – check
    Misreading scientific data in order to make it fit your own conclusions – check

    Religiosity seems to be your refuge – not the commenters you’re accusing.

  58. #58 Nomad
    December 23, 2008

    I found an AP story about this, tucked into the weather section. They present it more or less as if it was a landslide. The entire thrust of the story is that this STUFF escaped and knocked over or flooded some homes.

    The only hint that maybe this stuff is something a little nastier than mud (in fact they do refer to it as mud) is the mention that water flow through a dam has been “reduced” to prevent pollution from entering the Tennessee River.

  59. #59 Jason A.
    December 23, 2008

    A Health Physicist #51

    Come on. You’re trying to deny obvious risks because, presumably, you don’t like the idea of it or something, I don’t know, and you’re accusing me of religiousity because I use a figure from a scientific study?
    Isn’t projection another common attribute of religionists?

    Isn’t it another one of their tactics to pick on small wording and twist it to make a strawman? Okay, I didn’t say ‘at most’. I thought we both understood that these are maximum statistical projections and not ‘every single person within 1 kilometer gets a 5% increase and every single person greater than 1 kilometer doesn’t’.

    Would you live on this land?
    If you had a garden on your yard, would you eat the tomatoes you grew next year?

  60. #60 David in NY
    December 23, 2008

    Well, we may see the possible advantage of having an administration interested in science. Imagine this not solely as a disaster (or a potential one) but as an inadvertent experiment. A relatively modest sum included in the congressional stimulus (or “economic recovery”) package for research on the results of this event might produce really interesting findings.

  61. #61 Epinephrine
    December 23, 2008

    I tried being polite with you (“Health Physicist”), but you make it clear that you’re just looking for a fight.

    Not interested. I’ll take some reading home on the subject, and have an intelligent conversation about heavy metal bioaccumulation with people who can appreciate it.

    All you’ve done is repeat that it’s not a big deal, with no evidence to back up your statements. Grow up.

  62. #62 Jason A.
    December 23, 2008

    A Health Physicist #56

    Of course there are potential risks…there are real risks.

    But that doesn’t make it “seriously nasty stuff”.

    Eh. So your point is that you agree there are risks, but you don’t agree with the wording?
    Have fun with that.

  63. #63 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    My point is that this is not “seriously nasty stuff”. You would have to eat it and breath it for years in order for any biological effect to manifest itself.

    The risk is quantifiable and low.

    If you haven’t quantified it, then you are espousing religion.

    You are mentally exaggerating reality, like a religious person does.

    Quantify the risk and then compare it to other risks, like driving, drinking, eating hamburgers, getting struck by lightening.

    After you do so…I’ll accept your apology. Until then, you haven’t done the work.

  64. #64 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Hey, guess what? Dihydrogen Monoxide has lots of risks…it’s killed lots of people…let’s run from it, complain about it, ban it.

    No…why not?

  65. #65 phreack
    December 23, 2008

    Fly ash isn’t harmless. I’ve seen the MSDS (material safety data sheets) that say it isn’t. I work in a precast concrete plant, and we use the stuff all the time. It makes really good concrete, and seriously increases the wear characteristics of concrete that it’s used in. That being said, it’s brought to us in sealed trucks with hazmat certified drivers delivering it. They have to wear respirators when they pump it into our materials silos. We’ve had to fire employees for carrying it around in open containers to keep OSHA off of our backs.

    Fly ash is a quality product that has a lot of uses. Harmless, it is not.

  66. #66 Sven DiMilo
    December 23, 2008

    Look, point taken, it’s not “seriously nasty stuff” in terms of all possible stuffs. Concentrated H2SO4: much more seriously nasty. Viper venom.
    Quantifiable direct risk to individual humans (Days of Healthy Life Lost?), though, is not the criterion I am using for “nasty.”

  67. #67 Lora
    December 23, 2008

    @ A Health Physicist:

    I hope you’re not trying to say that coal itself is like puppy kisses and daisies or something.

    I mean, have you been to Ashland, PA (right by ex-Centralia)?

    A nuclear meltdown would be a fucking improvement. And I’ve seen coal executives point to the little scrubby birch trees growing in the piles of strip-mine slag (40 years after the nearest mine closed) and say, “See, Nature’s taking it back!” Nevermind all the people dying of black lung disease and the orange containment ponds, the weird-ass mutant fish and the mercury-infested soil.

    Oh, gosh, the ash is maybe not a whole lot worse than coal itself. The coal itself is pretty damn bad!

  68. #68 Epinephrine
    December 23, 2008

    My point is that this is not “seriously nasty stuff”. You would have to eat it and breath it for years in order for any biological effect to manifest itself.

    Wrong.

    I can show you papers on acute effects in vivo of breathing particulate fly ash (the article examines coal and oil fly ash).

    Oxidant Generation and Lung Injury after Particulate Air Pollutant Exposure
    Increase with the Concentrations of Associated Metals
    Robert J. Pritchard; Andrew J. Ghio; James R. Lehmann; Darrell W. Winsett; Jeffrey S. Tepper;
    Patricia Park; M. Ian Gilmour; Kevin L. Dreher; Daniel L. Costa

  69. #69 Johnny
    December 23, 2008

    A Health Physicist: “You would have to eat it and breathe it for years in order for any biological effect to manifest itself.”

    Question 1: Doesn’t the ash typically remain in the environment for “years”?

    Question 2: Are we only concerned with risks to “hamburger eating” adult humans? Or, are we concerned with the surrounding biota in its entirety?

    I’m thinking that a little can go a long way… Like the gradual accumulation of DDT in biological systems, for example.

  70. #70 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Big difference between “harmless” and “seriously nasty stuff”.

    “Harmless, it is not” could be said of scissors, water, clothes hangers, other people, just about anything.

    OSHA classifies airborne particulates for workers. The limit for coal ash is 2.4 mg/m3 if high silicates or 10 mg/m3 if low silicates in the dust.

    The limit for simple nuisance dust is 5 mg/m3.

  71. #71 rob
    December 23, 2008

    i agree:

    Sven DiMilo FTW!

  72. #72 Jadehawk
    December 23, 2008

    Jadehawk, yep, as evidenced by Bushco’s recent midnight signings weakening environmental regulations in particular, before he does a runner next month.

    exactly. while in many other developed countries the industries are being cleaned up, here the opposite seems to be happening

    and it doesn’t help either that because some nations don’t give a flying fuck for the environment, the nations that are more responsible are losing businesses. multi-national companies need to be dealt with at a multi-national level. I really wish the UN was far more functionable than it is *sigh*

    to those posters calling for nuclear, clean coal, etc. next time it’s day-time: look up. surprise! a giant nuclear reactor (big enough to produce enough energy for the evolution on a nearby planet of intelligent life, no less) not eight light-minutes away! look at all that energy! and the best bit? it’s all free!

    woah! did i just say free? as in, for everyone? isn’t that, like, unethical or something? sure sounds suspiciously communist to me…

    the energy may be free, but the extraction isn’t. unless we magically turn into photosynthetes, the harvesting of solar will for the forseeable future NOT be free. it is however our ultimate powersource, and as such, we need to learn how to use it. and better sooner than later.

    @ Nuclear Power Proponents
    there may be many good reasons to pursue nuclear, but the single, overpowering problem is that we’d be creating dangerous waste which will NEVER go away, and will accumulate more an more over the course of time. it’s basically a long-term setup for catastrophe.

    and in the end, unless humans stop treating energy like a right and begin seeing it as the limited resource that it is, we’ll be fucked sooner or later anyway, no matter how many different forms of energy we harvest. we need to have fewer people, consuming less energy per person (than we do in the west)

  73. #73 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    I got my “low” and “high” silicates backwards on my last post. The point being, that for workers exposed to the ash on a day-to-day basis, it’s not much more hazardous than any nuisance dust.

    That is not “seriously nasty stuff”.

  74. #74 Robert W
    December 23, 2008

    This makes me very angry. How disgusting that the media isn’t even bothering to cover this.

    We should all make noise. Call your local news media, write in to CNN and MSNBC and Fox Noise to demand they cover this story. Send an editorial in to your local paper.

  75. #75 Jim
    December 23, 2008

    “some fly-ashes have too high of a carbon content to use in cement”

    In Portland Cement kilns, fly ash with a very high carbon content may be added to little effect, because the operating temperature of a cement kiln is in the range of 2000-3000 F (don’t have all my data in front of me right now so I can’t give a completely accurate number) and all entrained carbon in the fly ash is oxidized. If being used as an additive (i.e. blended with the cement after calcination & clinker grinding), the carbon content may be too high, especially from an older plant using spreader-stoker technology, or a newer plant using fluidized bed technology, which burns at a much lower temperature than puliverized coal. The only problem you can run into when using flyash in a portland cement kiln is found when the ash comes from a power plant with carbon injection for mercury control, which gets collected along with the flyash. When used in a kiln, the activated carbon burns off, thus re-emitting the collected mercury; however, using this type of ash in cement kilns is no longer allowed, per the newest revisions to the federal portland cement air toxics regulations.

  76. #76 Jadehawk
    December 23, 2008

    oh yeah, and I second this: “Sven DiMilo FTW!”

  77. #77 Vole
    December 23, 2008

    Meanwhile in the UK, the front page lead in today’s Guardian was “Government buildings emit more CO2 than all of Kenya”. As far as I can discover, only one other paper – the Telegraph – reported the story at all. The BBC seems to have ignored it completely. The media do not always serve us well on this side of the pond either.

  78. #78 H.H.
    December 23, 2008

    A Health Physicist, if the threats of exposure have been exaggerated, then clarification is always welcome. However, your tone is quite inexcusable, and quite a few of your statements have been downright moronic.

    If you haven’t quantified it, then you are espousing religion.

    Seriously stupid statement. You really aren’t going to be effective chastising people for hyperbole when you go around flagrantly engaging in it yourself.

    You are mentally exaggerating reality, like a religious person does.

    This one is a really, really stupid comment. Religious people aren’t really known for “exaggerating” reality, whatever that is supposed to mean. Most religions have both feet firmly planted in unreality. Discussing the relative health effects of a toxic substance really isn’t comparable.

  79. #79 Azkyroth
    December 23, 2008

    “If they have calculated a 5% exposure increase due to leaching…”

    Has this become a Creationist blog?

    No one said that…the article said that at most you would expect a 5% annual increase from living in the shadow of an exhaust stack.

    At most!!!!

    Please stop the religiosity and get back to science.

    That’s some really impressive projection there.

  80. #80 Quiet_Desperation
    December 23, 2008

    Quick, somebody call FEMA

    Screw FEMA. Somebody call International Rescue! Thunderbirds are go!

  81. #81 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    H.H. -

    What I’ve observed is pseudo-science…claims being made regarding the relative toxicity of a substance, without (apparently) anyone having a clue as to what the toxicity really is.

    I’ve provided OSHA limits as an indicator…this dust is really no more hazardous than a nuisance dust (from a respiration point of view). I could go on and on…

    Funny, the posters will soon drive in their cars & won’t think of those auto’s as “serious, nasty things”…if so, stop driving. Yet, their risk of auto death is much greater than any coal ash death risk.

    “exaggerating reality” means taking reality beyond what it truly is…inventing a deity when there is a simple, proven explanation. Or inventing risks and fears (ie. ghosts or unsupported fears of substances).

    Perhaps my tone reflects my very deep disappointment in the disregard for science on this issue, on this blog.

    I apologize.

  82. #82 NotSam
    December 23, 2008

    we’d be creating dangerous waste

    Talk to the French about that. And if you chain your reactor types properly, you can recycle it down to a trivial problem. There might even be uses for the stuff that’s left over.

    which will NEVER go away

    Look up the term “half-life.”

  83. #83 eric
    December 23, 2008

    physicist…i think you keep ignoring the point that has been made that not only humans are affected by this. unless i am mistaken, osha limits apply only to humans…

  84. #84 Ryan Cunngham
    December 23, 2008

    A Health Physicist’s IP address wouldn’t happen to be in Tennessee, would it? Maybe some full disclosure is in order…

  85. #85 OrchidGrowinMan
    December 23, 2008

    Hmmm,

    I don’t have time to look up citations right now, but I believe I remember reading that fly ash is a commercial source for several materials, I think germanium being one. There are different producers of fly ash though: the oil-refinery product can apparently have high (toxic) levels of vanadium.

    I also recall reading that coal-plant fly ash is added to cattle feed to increase growth rates (zinc supplement?).

    It is used in fertilizer formulations, along with several other industrial/mining/refining byproducts as a source of micronutrients, but here in Washington State, there was a local newspaper investigation that uncovered objectionably high concentrations of things like arsenic and cadmium in the finished fertilizers, and it appeared that sometimes producers were adding nutrients like zinc to otherwise nasty valueless materials so that they could sell them to fertilizer mfrs instead of expensively toxic-wasting them.

    Finally, there is a difference between fly ash and the other ash/cinder/slag. The cinders are used as ballast on train tracks, and apparently in concrete products (“cinder-block”), but I recall hearing, an an elementary-school field-trip to a power-plant that the reason no weeds were growing on the huge heap of waste was because of excess boron. Looking at the material, it has the mechanical properties to be useful as a soil amendment, landscaping material and component of potting media for orchids and other plants, similar to scoria, but it is not used so, and again I’ve heard it’s because of boron.

    Dealing with the residues from coal plants (and other sources) is a complicated issue, but I agree with some previous posts: the radioactivity is a minor concern, and the “dirt-ness” of this spill into waterways outweighs the other concerns.

    But here’s a bit of reading material that might lead somewhere:

    http://www.flyash.info/2005/185pal.pdf
    http://www.flyash.info/2001/chemin1/98font.pdf
    http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2005AM/finalprogram/abstract_96854.htm

  86. #86 Epinephrine
    December 23, 2008

    I got my “low” and “high” silicates backwards on my last post. The point being, that for workers exposed to the ash on a day-to-day basis, it’s not much more hazardous than any nuisance dust.

    That is not “seriously nasty stuff”.

    Please explain the results of the paper I posted, then, comparing dust from 10 sources (including normal dust), and the increasing risk found with heavy metal concentrations.

    At sufficiently low concentrations, no, it’s not too bad. I bet the workers have appropriate safety gear, and don’t live in/near it.

    You are providing guidelines for workplace exposure, which is fine – I provided experimental data on acute respiratory injury. You said that you’d need to breathe and eat it for years to show biological effect, I provided a paper showing acute biological effects.

    Somehow though, instead of acknowledging that you were wrong, you make some noise about scissors being dangerous.

  87. #87 E.V.
    December 23, 2008

    OK. First clue that A Health Physicist is a concern troll is that his clickback just goes to this thread. Next, he uses logical fallacies like they were currency. I’m not even going to mention the elephant in the room (such as the pH in solution and the effects thereof with that quantity of ash). My guess is you work for the Coal Industry, AHP.

  88. #88 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    eric -

    You are correct…OSHA limits only apply to humans in the workplace. Generally, occupational workers are exposed to the highest concentration of contaminants over the longest periods of time. Understanding their limits is insightful.

    Regarding non-humans…developing a new housing subdivision is extremely detrimental to non-humans. This coal ash incident will be much less harmful to most species (there may be an acutely sensitive few). It is like introducing soil (with some low level toxics) into the environment. Not as detrimental as clear-cutting, introducing soil, paving, humans, house cats, etc.

    I doubt any poster here understands the local biodiversity or its sensitivity to coal ash. Some species may derive actually derive a benefit.

    I suggest you study the non-human populations around Chernobyl. They are thriving (yes, some with increased mutation rates and shorter individual lifetimes, but overall, greater biodiversity).

  89. #89 Janine, Vile Bitch
    December 23, 2008

    Posted by: A Health Physicist | December 23, 2008

    I suggest you study the non-human populations around Chernobyl. They are thriving (yes, some with increased mutation rates and shorter individual lifetimes, but overall, greater biodiversity).

    Could it be that the greater biodiversity is a result of humans not being there? Other than the lack of humans, it does not sound like an ideal for living conditions.

  90. #90 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Janine -

    You are correct…from a non-human “perspective”, just having expanding human civilization into their environment is extremely “serious, nasty stuff”.

    Much more serious and nasty, then a one-time coal ash spill into an already human-intruded environment.

    If you really care, stop subdivision development.

    And no, I don’t work for the coal industry, I work for the nuclear industry.

  91. #91 Marc Abian
    December 23, 2008

    Google scholar search returns: Environmental Impacts of Coal Combustion Residues.

    The major potential impacts of ash disposal on terrestrial ecosystems include: leaching of potentially toxic substances into soils and groundwater; reductions in plant establishment and growth due primarily to adverse chemical characteristics of the ash; changes in the elemental composition of vegetation growing on the ash; and increased mobility and accumulation of potentially toxic elements throughout the food chain. Ash disposal in landfills and settling ponds can influence adjacent aquatic ecosystems directly, through inputs of ash basin effluent and surface runoff, and indirectly, through seepage and groundwater contamination. Major impacts are generally associated with changes in water chemistry, including changes in pH and concentrations of potentially toxic elements.

  92. #92 littlejohn
    December 23, 2008

    PZ, this isn’t even the half of it. I grew up in West Virginia, and served on the staff of Jay Rockefeller in 1972 when he ran for governor on an anti-strip-mining platform. He lost, although he later won and eventually became a senator.

    I have flown low over strip mines in my home state. The big strip mines (now called mountaintop removal mines) look exactly what you’d expect had a nuclear bomb been detonated in the middle of a forest.

    I have seen formerly pristine trout streams turned yellowish-brown by the sulfur compounds released by coal mining. Nothing grows in them now, not even crawfish.

    It breaks my heart what coal mining is doing to a state whose only economic alternative is tourism.

    Who will want to hike, camp, hunt or fish on what is quickly becoming a toxic moonscape?

    Appalachia will soon have no economy whatsoever because its first economy is destroying its only alternative.

    The mining and burning of coal must be banned as soon as possible. Even nuclear power, with all its drawbacks, is surely preferable.

    But, up the up side, we still get to marry our sisters.

  93. #93 SC, OM
    December 23, 2008

    Jaywalking can be risky. Therefore, go stick a fork in a light socket while standing in a puddle.

    A man in front of you is beating a dog. Animal abandonment is a big problem. Therefore, ignore him.

  94. #94 Non-theist Engineer
    December 23, 2008

    This may just be an unfortunate accident. Maybe there was neglect. I don’t know that any technology can be 100% without accompanying risks. The production of solar cells and wind both have potential for serious environmental harm as well.

    If you are using this incident to push for more government control over power companies and energy production, you should be aware that this plant is not a “power company” plant. It is owned and maintained by TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) a Federally owned entity established by congressional charter.

    This accident was not the result of greedy shareholders or disregard for the environment from the private sector. Be careful of what you want the Government to save us from and what that solution may entail.

  95. #95 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Marc -

    No argument from me…many of those same changes would be observed if you just took one soil type from one area (let’s say desert sand) and dumped it in another area (let’s say a Tennessee river).

    The issue is the almost instantaneous dumping of large quantities of solid material where it didn’t previously exist.

    But that doesn’t make the solid material inherently “serious, nasty stuff”…it simply isn’t all that toxic.

  96. #96 Non-theist Engineer
    December 23, 2008

    One more note. Not that I was a fan of the man, but Ronald Reagan was fired by GE for referring to TVA as one of the problems of “Big Government”.

  97. #97 Michael Hawkins
    December 23, 2008

    The media is absolutely ridiculous. I did my own search through Yahoo! News on this and came up with 27 results, 11 of which have to do with the event (9 are local sources). I searched “Britney Spears” and got over 4,000 results.

    The media is just awful. These people are absolute mooks. They fuck it up for the rest of us.

  98. #98 Grendels Dad
    December 23, 2008

    Just curious AHP, if it wasn’t for those three little words you keep repeating (seriously nasty stuff), would your knickers still be in such a knot?

  99. #99 Marc Abian
    December 23, 2008

    @Grendel’s dad

    Seriously nasty stuff is a central idea here. Focusing on that phrase isn’t petty or pedantic.

    @AHP

    You say it like I normally would be happy that a large quantity of alien soil was dumped in a river.

  100. #100 ks
    December 23, 2008

    littlejohn, I agree.

    I grew up on Buffalo Creek. I was born after the flood, but my dad lost his grandfather and his daughter in that. My cousin works for Massey (she’s sold her soul to the devil, but he paid well for it) and was involved in the cleanup of the Martin Co., KY mess. My dad was a coal miner for years, mostly deep coal, but luckily he got out before he developed too many health problems. He drives a truck now. But even so, he’s in his early 50s with knee problems, breathing problems (never smoked a day in his life–all due to coal dust), and is deaf as a post. It could definitely be worse, but it’s bad enough already.

    Even setting aside the environmental devastation, which is massive and horrible and it kills me to see it get worse and worse every single time I go home for a visit, and as you said, the only real alternative is tourism and the coal industry is absolutely killing that, the toll that the coal companies have taken on the people of the area with their greed and general bastardy is completely horrifying.

  101. #101 george.w
    December 23, 2008

    My nonscientific authority on this stuff is my wife, who grew up in Martin’s Ferry, OH and who has considerable experience with what it does to streams. Looking over my shoulder she recoiled in horror at the video. She said the dust burns your lungs and it becomes very alkali in water.

    Yes, extracting solar and wind power are expensive at this stage of their development. And there’s the need to create a smarter grid, which we should do anyway. But burning coal exports huge cost to the commons.

  102. #102 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    G.Dad -

    That’s my beef…this isn’t serious, nasty stuff.

    Floods happen, but no one says water is “serious, nasty stuff”. Often, the flood waters becomes contaminated with chemicals (via the flooding) and still no one reasonably considers it “serious, nasty stuff”.

    This was a flood of solids which contains trace levels of toxic metals and radioactivity.

    The flood is the really bad part. It could have happened with corn grain, fertilizer, sand, etc.

    The trace level of toxics in the ash does not make it “serious nasty stuff” relative to anything else in the world.

  103. #103 Aaron Kralik
    December 23, 2008

    I like in North East PA, the anthracite coal area. after the coal company digs the coal out of a seam they fill in the hole with that fly ash as well as toxic river sludge and other nasty stuff that no one wants around. its deadly toxic yet it is being dumped into unlined pits that sit on our water table. a few years ago there was a big outcry to stop it but that has all blown over no one even talks about it. the trucks keep coming every day.

  104. #104 Charon
    December 23, 2008

    “Health physicist” – please, you’re giving us physicists a bad name.

    People have provided references on the toxicity. You have not addressed them, but have continued to demand references. This is classic pseudoscience behavior. You also keep talking about the radioactive properties, when no one in this thread is doing so, perhaps because the radioactive properties are all you’re qualified to talk about (working in the nuclear industry). Heavy metal toxicity (which, as had been noted, probably has a non-linear effect with concentration, and might be bioaccumulative) is the issue here, it seems. (Along with other toxins, perhaps – boron was mentioned.)

    Address that or shut up.

    I understand that you might be all sensitive because lefties and scientists tend to be against nuclear power, and presumably you’re pro, but this is actually irrelevant here.

  105. #105 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Charon -

    The link that PZ provided, before I ever posted, only addresses radioactivity.

    Reread it and shut up.

  106. #106 Fernando Magyar
    December 23, 2008

    Clean coal kinda reminds me of fucking for virginity.
    Then again this is Merika land of delusion and denial about the absolute complete unsustainability of our current economic model.

    A bit OT but a rather interesting group of Images.

    Oil Barrels, 2008
    Depicts 28,000 42-gallon barrels, the amount of of oil consumed in the United States every two minutes (equal to the flow of a medium-sized river).

    Running the Numbers
    An American Self-Portrait
    Chris Jordan

    http://www.chrisjordan.com/current_set2.php

    The message is that each and everyone of us is complicit and responsible so we all need to take a long hard look in the mirror, stop pointing fingers and allocating blame. We have met the enemy and the enemy is us, there is no where to hide.

  107. #107 Grendels Dad
    December 23, 2008

    Yes, one of the links PZ posted dealt primarily with radioactivity. Subsequent posters have brought up a number of other issues. Conversations are like that.

    If your point is that the original article was incomplete, that is one thing. But to ignore all of the other points isn’t helping make your case.

  108. #108 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    I don’t have time to get into all the toxicity studies…let’s simplify.

    Different wastes are regulated by the federal government based on the comprehensive conclusions of all the toxicity studies.

    The U.S. NRC regulates radioactive waste (under the Low Level Waste Policy Act).

    The U.S. EPA regulates toxic wastes (under the Toxic Substances Control Act) and hazardous wastes (under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act).

    Many, many wastes are regulated by the NRC and EPA under these acts. Coal ash is not. It is not “seriously, nasty” enough to require a high degree of regulatory oversight.

    That doesn’t mean it has zero toxicity or zero risk…what does?

  109. #109 Stark
    December 23, 2008

    Health Physicist…. so, this is perfectly fine stuff. Not particularly toxic with no real appreciable long term risks to the environment that aren’t presented by just about any other large incident. Is this what you are saying? Really? If that’s the case, and you seem to claim it is, then why do they go to the considerable expense to build and maintain (not well clearly) a 500 million gallon holding pond for the stuff? Why not simply flush it out the river system as they create it instead?

    Possibly because it does pose a long term health risk? And now there’s 500 million gallons worth of that trace toxic heavy metal bearing sludge working it’s way downriver… dropping those heavy metals along the way and creating long term elevated levels of those toxins all along the way.

    So, is it “serious, nasty stuff” the same way a big pool of hydrofluoric acid is? Well, no, of course not. Still, I’d bet a substantial sum of money that you’d not be willing to drink a liter of it. So, not earth shatteringly nasty stuff… but not glacial spring water either.

    This spill will, without any doubt, have long term medical effects on the residents and other flora and fauna of the ares. Epidemiologically noticeable results – as clearly demonstrated by the mass of papers already linked to here.

    So, please, Health Physicist, quit getting hung up on a turn of phrase and realize that this in NOT a good thing for the environment there and is an inexcusable engineering and oversight failure.

  110. #110 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Stark -

    Why does your household trash go to a landfill?

    Obviously, this spill is detrimental to the environment, so is your household trash.

    I’m just saying let’s keep things in perspective.

    Holding ponds and landfills are pretty simple containments…ie. low risk associated with the possible breach.

    The E.coli is dog poop is also toxic to the environment, now what?

  111. #111 Larry
    December 23, 2008

    Hey PZ,
    Does a biologist understand all of the chemistry you have stirred up here?? It got a little more agitated than usual. Let’s stick to kicking religion. Interesting differing viewpoints, tho.

  112. #112 Stark
    December 23, 2008

    Solid waste heading to the landfill has little to do with toxicity. It is only within the last 20 years that toxicity of household wastes even became a concern (I happen to have some expertise here). Landfills came about simply as a space usage concern in urban areas. It is not possible in a city to have a personal waste burning site or dump site so the landfill was created as a solution to a problem of where to put all the crud that people create. You’ll find that in rural areas of the US there often is not a central landfill, people dispose of their trash in pretty much whatever manner they see fit – burying it in a mini-dump on their property, burning it, or some other solution. So, apples to oranges here. Waste containment ponds were created solely to hold wastes and prevent them, as much as possible, from damaging more of the local ecology than is necessary.

    E.Coli in dog poop is, in point of fact, not toxic to the environment. E.Coli in fecal matter, while a human health issue, is not an environmental damage issue. Never has been.

    You may well be a physicist, but you are not a toxicologist or an epidemiologist. Neither am I (for the sake of clarity) but I do work with them and their data closely every single day. I do study these types of events. Yes, this spill is a big deal. No, it’s not as horrible as some may think it is. It’s less immediately toxic than the flood waters in the New Orleans were… but it is toxic. Especially over the long term – and it will be there for the long term. It will have detrimental effects on the inhabitants of the Tennessee river basin for years to come. Why does this relatively simple fact upset you so?

  113. #113 Darryll A.
    December 23, 2008
  114. #114 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Sorry, Charley…ooopss, Stark.

    Landfills are designed for environmental isolation. Landfill regulations don’t apply to individuals due to the lack of regulatory resources of the EPA. A business has to recycle their batteries under the regulations, but individuals don’t. It has nothing to do with battery toxicity, just the financial resource required to regulate and the political downside of personal intrusion.

    E. Coli absolutely causes environmental harm to non-humans…there are many strains. You are likely focused on only one or two, perhaps O157:H7. Other strains cause similar symptoms in cattle, goats, etc. as occurs in humans.

    I am not upset about anything except describing coal ash as “seriously, nasty stuff”. Car exhaust is seriously nasty stuff…it will effect the health of TN residents for years to come. I don’t expect the news media to cover it.

  115. #115 ambulocetus
    December 23, 2008

    Some of the new commenters here remind me of the story told in the last 3 minutes of this video=
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpVWFIWZMjk

  116. #116 Stark
    December 23, 2008

    Yes, currently that is what landfills are for and how they are defined… of course landfills existed a helluva a long time prior to the EPA. Try ancient Rome for an early example. Try New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and every other major American city for more contemporary examples of places that had landfills long before the EPA existed and began regulating them to some extent – and worrying about toxic materials both in them and out of them.

    What we’re talking about here is a sudden, massive injection of a pollutant into the environment – not the steady day to day stuff we all already deal with. A completely preventable release I might add. Yes, cars are bad. Smoking is bad. Red meat is bad. None of this has anything to do with the point. You also DO find the media reporting on all of these things, including car exhaust – unless you are failing to pay attention anyhow. Compared to yesterday, the Tennessee river basin is now noticeably more contaminated. Seriously, nastily contaminated.

    Once again, if fly ash sludge is not nasty stuff… are you willing to drink a liter of it? Or even a pint? I know I’m not likely to do so – and I realize it’s not high on the list of nasty stuff you could drink… but it certainly still qualifies as nasty enough that I’d rather not be exposed to it. In my book, that makes 500 million gallons of the stuff “seriously nasty”. For comparison 500 million gallons of, oh, I don’t know… dioxin let’s say would be, in my book, “mind numbingly horrifying”. 500 million gallons of vinegar would be simply “nasty” unless I had 500 million pounds of chips (french-frys to the masses) to go with it – then it’s “tasty”.

    Anyhow, I’m done. You have your opinion and many of the rest of us have ours. Clearly it’s just a matter of definition and acceptance of risk levels. I’d actually figure a physicist working in nuclear energy to have a different risk scale than most of us – the potential for some truly horrifying things in that world is much greater than what most of us see. It would, I think, tend to move the goalposts a bit. That is not a judgment by the way – just an observation of where our opinions skew away from one another.

    Anyhow… Happy Monkey Day – hope to see you around again sometime.

  117. #117 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Happy Monkey Day! Have a good one.

    Yes, I have an opinion based on the evidence of concentrations of toxics leading to certain observed results. The concentration of toxics in the coal ash is too low to cause serious damage. The dumping of huge quantities of solids is catastrophic.

    Your exaggerated fear of the potential “horrors” of nuclear power might be a window into your own risk phobia. You’d be hard pressed to find a safer industry than nuclear power. Even the medical profession kills more people than the nuclear industry.

    Think about it.

  118. #118 H.H.
    December 23, 2008

    Crude oil isn’t particularly harmful either, but spill a tanker of it in the ocean and it becomes “seriously nasty.” I really think the hair-splitting over this phrase has been unproductive.

  119. #119 Steven Dunlap
    December 23, 2008

    Let’s see, who did the people whose drinking water is crap vote for? Didn’t Tennessee and the states downstream from this mess vote for Bush twice and for McCain last month? (answer: yes). Let’s see, cause – effect. [sarcasm subtitled for the irony impaired].

    Not that Obama with his support of “clean coal” will help with this particular travesty.

    GK4

    Isn’t the marketing term “clean coal” simply about sulfur in the coal? I don’t think it has anything to do with carbon dioxide or rapid climate change.

    The coal industry shills lie by means of an interesting mis-use of a scientific/engineering term. “Clean” in chemistry means more of the fuel burns. The “cleaner” the burn, the more fuel is consumed. Unburned fuel makes up less of the exhaust. Less pollution in terms of unburned fuel. But more pollution in terms of exhaust and/or ash. “Clean burning” : Technically true but deliberately misleading.

    cervantes

    The water main break in Bethesda was major news all day,

    And it’s news because it’s a suburb of the Washington D.C. and the home of the ruling class. Similar to the headline in a newspaper about the sinking of the Titanic: So-and-so millionaire dies in shipwreck (oh, and a few hundred unimportant non-rich people also probably bought it, but who cares about them).

    @ A Health Physicist

    Why is this “seriously nasty stuff”?

    Because we measure the toxicity of lead and mercury (to name only two heavy metals) in parts per million.

    The article in the link says that trace contaminants are increased by a factor of 10…that really isn’t much.

    The EPA’s (dubious) standard for “safe” levels of lead for children is 5 ppm. My nephew went into convulsions (and continues to suffer severe developmental problems to this day) as a result of lead poisoning when he was 3 years old. The hospital at the time measured his blood lead level at 36 ppm. Although I agree it would be more meaningful if we knew the baseline for the 10 times factor, bear in mind for heavy metals 10 times a part per million is enough to cause brain damage.

    A more pertinent question would be to ask 10 times more of how much of what rather than write off a factor of 10 as insignificant without further consideration.

  120. #120 Bronze Dog
    December 23, 2008

    Skipping over comments.

    I can hypothetically imagine someone coming up with some clean, safe way of handling and burning coal, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still taking carbon that was sequestered underground and putting it in the atmosphere.

  121. #121 BdN
    December 23, 2008

    Ooooooooh! What’s that oozing out of your ash ? Seriously nasty stuff indeed!

  122. #122 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    I had no intention of commenting again, until I read Steve Dunlap’s comments.

    The EPA’s limit for children is 5 ppm….5 ppm in what? The EPA regulates the chemical concentrations in the environment, not in individuals.

    And 36 ppm in the blood is not directly related to 5 ppm in an environmental media. You have to consider uptake and excretion.

    I think you are very confused.

  123. #123 Sven DiMilo
    December 23, 2008

    I doubt any poster here understands the local biodiversity or its sensitivity to coal ash.

    Bill Hopkins does, which is why I cited a bunch of his work above.

    Some species may derive actually derive a benefit.

    Gonna need at least a plausible example for that assertion.

  124. #124 Fargo
    December 23, 2008

    You know, even if it was chocolate pudding I’d be very concerned about that much going into an environment, especially all at once. Even if it was just straight soil that would be a cause for extreme concern. It’s an enormous influx of material into a system, and specifically will cause smothering of animal and plant life, regardless of any toxic properties it may or may not have. However, a lot of you are so caught up in your own concerns, your own attached rules on the general subject, that you can’t even just sit back and look at this as a problem, one with, at least to most of us, a totally unknown depth of consequence.

    None of you (it’s an assumption, but I stand by it for now) even have money or influence at stake in regards to what action is, or is not, taken about this or situations like this, but a lot of you fight like blind hungry animals over minutiae. Now imagine that your salaries, benefits, and influence are riding on what your response is.

    Got that image? Now imagine how well and truly fucked we are.

  125. #125 Mikayla
    December 23, 2008

    Great. I live in Kentucky where there are coal power plants all over the place. Not long ago an old quary near here was filled with the coal ash from the power plants. I’d never heard anything about it being potentially radioactive or poisonous. I’d been told that it would make good fertilizer even…

    So what other wools are being pulled over our eyes?

  126. #126 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Citing a bunch of work doesn’t mean anything…I followed up one here:
    http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=13633658

    Basically, the coal ash wasn’t all that toxic. I don’t have time to review each cited study, but citing studies on coal ash doesn’t mean that the studies conclude that the ash is highly toxic. This one didn’t, and none will show high toxicity broadly…perhaps elevated toxicity to a particular species.

    Regarding a plausible example for my assertion that some species might actually derive a benefit…consider an animal which is ash-sensitive and dies. It’s prey, if not ash-sensitive would derive a benefit from the reduced numbers of its predator.

    What has happened to the science on this blog?

  127. #127 BdN
    December 23, 2008

    I doubt any poster here understands the local biodiversity or its sensitivity to coal ash.

    Indeed! It’s not like there were biologists hanging around! Oh…wait…

  128. #128 Sven DiMilo
    December 23, 2008

    The average mercury content of U.S. coal is 0.17 mg/kg (from here).
    Applying the 10-fold concentration factor, coal fly ash would contain 1.7 mg/kg.
    “Mercury concentrations in the 0- to 15-cm soil depth ranged from 30 to 50 µg kg-1 for the control [sample].”
    That’s a 40-fold difference; I don’t think it is “just soil.”

  129. #129 BdN
    December 23, 2008

    Regarding a plausible example for my assertion that some species might actually derive a benefit…consider an animal which is ash-sensitive and dies. It’s prey, if not ash-sensitive would derive a benefit from the reduced numbers of its predator.

    Which causes overpopulation in said species, which preys on whatever source of food which will thrive to survive, maybe disappear, etc.

  130. #130 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    Tell me I’m dreaming…Sven seems to say that .3-.5 mg/kg is higher than 1.7 mg/kg. Please pinch me.

    And BdN seems to think that the biosphere is absolutely stable…no changes occur to various populations for various reasons throughout time. How absurd. Changes occur in the environment and populations change…it’s been going on for millenium.

    I just may have to hang out with Creationists! Ouch!

  131. #131 Andy Axel
    December 23, 2008

    What has happened to the science on this blog?

    Hm. Well, ask yourself why TVA is telling local media in Knoxville that affected persons should boil their well water (as if the issue with fly ash slurry is somehow treated like you would treat a microbial outbreak). And also why TVA spokespeople are stating flatly that there are simply no toxins in fly ash. Want to talk bad science? Go have a chat with TVA.

    Oh, and then there’s the sudden recognition of massive fish-kill – probably from the sediment load more from the toxicity, but still. All just coincidence!

  132. #132 Dr Benway
    December 23, 2008

    The mercury worries me the most. It’s such an enduring contaminant.

  133. #133 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    A. Axel -

    I can’t speak for TVA…they may be trying to instill mental calmness…after the 3 Mile Island nuclear accident, studies showed more detrimental effects from the anxiety and fear than from the radiation itself.

    If you’re scared of death…pray.

    If you’re scared of ash….boil your water.

    I’ve dealt with irrational fear as much as I’ve dealt with irrational deity believes. There’s a lot of commonality.

    I’m just surprised to see it manifested here so broadly.

  134. #134 Epinpehrine
    December 23, 2008

    I just may have to hang out with Creationists! Ouch!

    Please do. I tire of your ever-so-subtle jibes.

  135. #135 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    I’m sorry Epinpehrine…I just can’t respect anyone who can’t spell epinephrine right.

    I hope you’ll understand.

  136. #136 Sven DiMilo
    December 23, 2008

    I’ll pass on the pinching, but here are the same numbers again:
    control soil, 0.04 mg/kg (30 to 50 µg/kg)
    fly ash 1.7 mg/kg
    That’s a 40-fold difference. (Those were just the first numbers I could google up for coal and uncontaminated soil.)

  137. #137 BdN
    December 23, 2008

    And BdN seems to think that the biosphere is absolutely stable…no changes occur to various populations for various reasons throughout time. How absurd. Changes occur in the environment and populations change…it’s been going on for millenium.

    Hmmm… ok, then we shouldn’t worry about overfishing neither, even if “In western Alaska, killer whales (Orincus
    orca) may have recently begun to prey on sea otters, driving a population decline with drastic
    effects on urchins and kelps (Figure 7 right). It is possible that the behaviour of killer whales
    toward sea otters has recently changed due to the collapse of their preferred food, the marine
    mammals. Further, the cause of the decrease in pinniped abundance might be related to
    overfishing and climate change (Estes et al., 1998). As stressed by Pace et al. (1999), this
    provides a good example of one of many cases in which it appears that fisheries and fish
    management are altering trophic cascades, with profound consequences for food webs in coastal
    ecosystems. ” (ftp://ftp.fao.org/fi/document/reykjavik/pdf/07Cury.PDF)

    The point is : even if you say that it may be beneficial for one species, you always have to take the big picture into account. Ask anybody who knows at least a little in ecosystem functioning.

    I just may have to hang out with Creationists! Ouch!

    I still don’t understand this stupid comment repeated over and over.

  138. #138 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    BdN makes a reasonable argument about fisheries…that is or has been an ongoing practice. Once it is stopped, populations will bounce back over time.

    This coal ash incident is a unique event…it may have a short term beneficial effect for certain species and a short term detrimental effect for others. But things will bounce back. (Again I’m referring to the toxicity, which is minor, not the release of solids…even though, bio-balance will be restored there as well).

    Sven makes the point about a 40 times increase in Hg mercury concentration from soil and coal ash. And about a 4 times concentration difference between the soil and coal. Now, the ash has been diluted due to dispersal…by how much…I don’t know maybe a factor of ten…so now it’s as hazardous as the original coal which is 4 times more hazardous than the soil. So what? That’s benign.

  139. #139 Stanton
    December 23, 2008

    What species would have a short term beneficial effect from exposure to poisonous ash laden with heavy metals?

  140. #140 A Health Physicist
    December 23, 2008

    That species whose predator is even more sensitive.

  141. #141 JLowe
    December 24, 2008

    Something like rupture of the coal ash retention basin at the Kingston Fossil power plant was an accident waiting to happen, because we just couldn’t make this issue important enough to resolve it more quickly. EPA has been noodling around with rulemaking on how to manage coal combustion wastes since 1993. Congress didn’t help with the Bevill Amendment, which sent the agency off on a multi-year fact-finding journey. Just last year, EPA made another run at trying to develop rules for landfilling this stuff – they were accepting comments until a few months ago, and the big handwringing issue was whether to regulate coal combustion wastes as hazardous or non-hazardous wastes (landfilling and management of RCRA hazardous waste is more expensive). According to EPA, the leachate doesn’t quite meet the toxicity criteria defining hazardous waste. . . .

    I’m not sure that matters to someone with several feet of crud on their front porch, even if it’s not dangerously toxic. And, as the stuff runs off into nearby streams, the metals are the least of the problems to the aquatic organisms – the suspended particulate matter will be enough to snuff the life out of fish and benthic invertebrates.

  142. #142 William
    December 24, 2008

    FYI, NPR mentioned it in their evening news report earlier this evening (I forget exactly which program… perhaps All Things Considered?). It’s also in the top 20 news articles on news.google.com (linked from cnn).

  143. #143 eric
    December 24, 2008

    ahp – i wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, but i really don’t think you understand anything about biology at all.

  144. #144 John C. Randolph
    December 24, 2008

    One thing I’m wondering when reading this discussion, is whether there’s enough mercury or other metals in the fly ash to be worth recovering it? I don’t know what mercury sells for on the metals exchanges, but I would be surprised if it’s cheap.

    -jcr

  145. #145 Kelson
    December 24, 2008

    Slag is actually one of the major considerations in clean coal. aka, how do you reduce slag. Because as slag builds up on the burners they become less efficient and burn less cleanly. So making sure that there is less coal ash is a part of clean coal. Tada! unfortunately there is no such thing as no impact power. everything has its cost, the idea is just to minimize that cost. With coal the idea is to start phasing out grandfather clauses and implementing new techniques to reduce CO2 and NOX emissions to minimal levels.

  146. #146 littlejohn
    December 24, 2008

    Thank you, ks, for your kind words.

    I guess I’m a little older than you. I remember the Buffalo Creek flood in West Virginia.

    An earthen dam, maintained by Pittston collapsed, killing scores of people. The state settled for a pittance.

    Of course, the governor at the time was Arch Moore, convicted felon. Although never proved to have accepted a bribe to agree to the deal, he so routinely accepted bribes that he spent time in prison.

    My father was The Charleston Gazette’s L.T. Anderson, whose columns, among others, made it fairly clear that Gov. Moore took a kickback.

    I fear for West Virginia’s future.

  147. #147 Samantha Vimes
    December 24, 2008

    I can describe a species that will benefit: bacteria, feasting on the corpses of the dead aquatic and amphibious life forms.

    It’s a bacterium’s world.

  148. #148 Zach
    December 24, 2008

    Health Physicist: This coal ash incident is a unique event…it may have a short term beneficial effect for certain species and a short term detrimental effect for others. But things will bounce back. (Again I’m referring to the toxicity, which is minor, not the release of solids…even though, bio-balance will be restored there as well).

    As an ecologist, I feel pretty safe in saying…bounce back to what? There’s no equilibrium in nature, and dumping this sort of stuff on a formerly less impacted habitat is only bound to sway the system one way or another. It’s very unlikely that the system will return to its previous state. Sure, there may not be much long-term “damage” (and if there is, it will almost certainly be impossible to quantify, given how poorly studied our ecosystems are). It will definitely have reach far beyond just the one river system, however.

    As far as your claims to “get back to the science”, all I’ve seen from you on this is pretty poor reasoning and handwaving, with precious little data to back up any of your claims.

  149. #149 Jadehawk
    December 24, 2008

    Posted by: NotSam | December 23, 2008 5:39 PM
    we’d be creating dangerous waste
    Talk to the French about that. And if you chain your reactor types properly, you can recycle it down to a trivial problem. There might even be uses for the stuff that’s left over.
    which will NEVER go away
    Look up the term “half-life.”

    don’t be cute and play with semantics. radioactive elements with half-lives of hundreds, even thousands of years (and to which we are constantly adding, at a rate higher than its half-life!)will be around for longer than human civilization has existed. as far as I’m concernet, that’s pretty much “forever”

    and to call constantly accumulating nuclear waste “trivial” is hubris. this stuff is not very intense, but over the periods we’re talking about here, it can still be dangerous, if only because it’s pretty much impossible to find storage that’s safe enough for what amounts to the rest of human existence (or for long enough until humans can shoot the stuff into the sun or somesuch sci-fi scenario)

    it’s a decent small scale, medium-term solution, but to make this THE power source for the world is basically dumping our problems into the future.

  150. #150 jws
    December 24, 2008

    “Clean” is to “Coal” as “honest” is to “George W. Bush.”

  151. #151 Tercel
    December 24, 2008

    So we can use a power source that produces huge amounts of waste, which lasts forever, much of which is ejected into the environment as a normal part of plant operation, and the rest of which could easily escape and contaminate large areas by accident.

    Or we could use nuclear power, and avoid all those problems.

    Unfortunately the anti-nuclear propaganda from the past 50 years is so deeply rooted in our society that even people in the rationalist community can be heard repeating it. Mind boggling. Sort of like when a vocal atheist manages to turn into a vocal christian nut.

  152. #152 gordon
    December 24, 2008

    The waste from current nuclear reactors may not be very nice, but the volume is absolutely tiny compared to the waste from things such as coal, it is much more manageable.

    Also, nuclear proponents (like myself) recognize that we don’t have to keep using the relatively primitive fuel cycles we have now forever. There are alternatives being developed that use the fuel far more efficiently and produce much less waste. There are even ways to use some of what is currently considered dangerous waste as fuel.

    Example: http://thoriumenergy.blogspot.com/

  153. #153 Marc Abian
    December 24, 2008

    Once it is stopped, populations will bounce back over time.

    Just like the cod.

  154. #154 NM
    December 24, 2008

    Aaron Kinney: So much for government regulation. Ever notice that the countries with bigger governments make more pollution and have more environmental catastrophes than those with smaller governments?

    Care to name countries with a “smaller government”? The environment is much better respected in Sweden, Finland, Norway … do those countries have what you’d call “small governments”?

    Jeebus, you libertardians have really lost the plot.

  155. #155 Epinephrine
    December 24, 2008

    I’m sorry Epinpehrine…I just can’t respect anyone who can’t spell epinephrine right.

    I hope you’ll understand.

    Don’t need your respect, and typos happen.

    At least I *do* work health statistics, and on the side of the public. I work with people doing air effects studies.

    I’ve also dealt with people who remind me an awful lot of you – they were defending the pharmaceutical companies, when I worked in compliance and enforcement. You sound just like them.

  156. #156 Jack
    December 24, 2008

    This sort of thing is not that uncommon. In 2000 in Martin Co. Kentucky, a 300 million gallon coal slurry pond dam failed, causing a similar flood that cost the locals their homes and in places left coal slurry feet deep on their land.

    This was the beginning of the current administration and the coal business basically called in a favor and the investigators were prevented from delivering a complete report on the situation. In fact, one of the area’s best OSM investigators and potentially the man would write the report damning Massey Coal for a huge environmental disaster was so disgusted by the redaction he left the investigation and was later quietly ‘let go’.

    I believe there was another coal ash flood in West Virginia back in the 70s…I was a kid back home then and it was reported in the local papers.

    So far as I know, only the local papers reported it. I only found out because a friend directed me to a column about it in the Appalachian News Express he’d brought with him on a visit.

  157. #157 S. Hill
    December 24, 2008

    Working my way through these comments… Very interesting. There are a few things I would point out. After working with coal ash for about 15 years in PA coal country, there are SIGNIFICANT differences between coal ash produced from plant A and plant B, from coal A and coal B, and methods of use A and B. The composition of the resulting coal ash depends on what fuel is burned, how its burned, what else is in it (like high rock content from waste coal banks and added limestone to up the pH) and now we recognize that air pollution controls affect what ends up in the ash. All these things also affect what the ash might be used for – concrete, structural fill, soil amendments (yes, it is used to make soil in places where there is none). Bottom line: not all ashes are created equal, and, this was an epic failure to manage it properly. That’s the tragedy.
    PA Coal ash site

  158. #158 Tor A
    December 24, 2008

    I sent a tip to a norwegian newspaper about it yesterday, and they posted an article about it today: http://www.dagbladet.no/2008/12/24/nyheter/ulykke/utenriks/ulykkesveier/kull/4149011/

  159. #159 Tor A
    December 24, 2008

    Ooooh… I broke the blog.

  160. #160 varlo
    December 24, 2008

    I skipped the previous comments so castigate me if I am infringing, but … Waste is a terrible thing to mind.

  161. #161 BdN
    December 24, 2008

    “The case for nuclear power as a low carbon energy source to replace fossil fuels has been challenged in a new report by Australian academics.

    It suggests greenhouse emissions from the mining of uranium – on which nuclear power relies – are on the rise.”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7371645.stm

  162. #162 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    I suggest you study the non-human populations around Chernobyl. They are thriving (yes, some with increased mutation rates and shorter individual lifetimes, but overall, greater biodiversity).,/I> – A Health Physicist

    Until I read this, I was prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt – maybe you really know what you’re talking about, I thought. The reason there is greater biodiversity around Chernobyl is because there are almost no human beings there. Are you a coal industry shill, or just an idiot?

  163. #163 SC, OM
    December 24, 2008

    Are you a coal industry shill, or just an idiot?

    See the concluding sentence of #90.

  164. #164 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    Talk to the French about that [nuclear waste]. – NotSam

    They haven’t solved the problem. They vitrify the most hazardous stuff and store it in shallow bunkers. They have no long-term disposal method. Reprocessing (not “recycling”) is expensive, and produces plutonium (wonderful stuff for making bombs as well as being useable as a fuel) and still leaves hazardous, unuseable waste (the French do reprocessing for other countries then return these products) – it’s not a general answer. According to the IAEA (a thoroughly pro-nuclear-power source):
    “The capacity to model all the effects involved in the dissolution of the waste form, in conditions similar to the disposal site, is the final goal of all the research undertaken by many research groups over many years. As we will see in this report, this kind of investigation is far from being finished.”
    http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/te_1563_web.pdf In other words, no-one yet knows how to dispose of nuclear waste safely long-term. And even with that, and the proliferation risks, nuclear power is better than burning coal without CCS.

  165. #165 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    Ah – having read #117 I see “A Health Physicist” is more probably a nuclear industry shill.

  166. #166 amanda
    December 24, 2008

    “Someone can correct me if (when) I’m wrong: Doesn’t coal gassification, of the type proposed by various companies (e.g., Alter NRG), solve a lot of these problems? What are the problems with this method (aside from the mining issues, which still exist)?”

    Clean Coal is the energy equivalent of “Non-addictive meth”

    Coal-gasification is NOT a new technology; I worked briefly writing about the energy industry, and one facet of clean coal technology was called “spray & pray.” Because they try to wash out the bad chemicals, and just hope that it works. No joke.

    The toxic metals in coal syngas don’t just “go away.” The mercury and leftovers are still there …
    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/orange/orl-toxic1508dec15,0,1827106.story?page=1

    And in most plans, the carbon dioxide from burning syngas is captured and is pumped into the ground, often times to help push out oil in oil drilling operations.

    It’s all a big shell trick. Clean Coal is the biggest greenwashing scheme of our day.

  167. #167 SC, OM
    December 24, 2008

    Ah – having read #117 I see “A Health Physicist” is more probably a nuclear industry shill.

    Are you ignoring me, Nick? :)

  168. #168 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    Tell me I’m dreaming…Sven seems to say that .3-.5 mg/kg is higher than 1.7 mg/kg. Please pinch me. – A “Health Physicist”

    No, you’re not dreaming, you just can’t read. Look at what Sven says again.

  169. #169 Kevin
    December 24, 2008

    I found this story on CNN’s front page so it just took a while to get picked up: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/12/23/tennessee.sludge.spill/index.html

  170. #170 Sven DiMilo
    December 24, 2008

    Even the medical profession kills more people than the nuclear industry. Think about it.

    I’m thinking about it. And it’s making we laugh.
    Is that going to be the PR slogan that heralds the triumphant return of nuclear power?

    NUCULAR! It’s killed less people than doctors, so far!

  171. #171 BdN
    December 24, 2008

    Even the medical profession kills more people than the nuclear industry. Think about it.

    And I wouldn’t be surprised that, overall, atomic bombs have killed less people over the years than doctors. Maybe we should think building more of these and produce less doctors to save the money required to build them.

  172. #172 BdN
    December 24, 2008

    I doubt any poster here understands the local biodiversity or its sensitivity to coal ash. Some species may derive actually derive a benefit.

    Using your own logic, if there won’t be detrimental effects in the long run because of the so-called balancing out and bouncing back, there cannot be any beneficial ones neither.

  173. #173 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    BdN makes a reasonable argument about fisheries…that is or has been an ongoing practice. Once it is stopped, populations will bounce back over time. – A “Health Physicist”

    And an expert marine ecologist as well! Actually, ecosystems frequently show hysteresis: removing the cause of a change does not necessarily reverse the change. Take a look at the literature on lake eutrophication for a good example.

  174. #174 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    Now, the ash has been diluted due to dispersal…by how much…I don’t know maybe a factor of ten…so now it’s as hazardous as the original coal which is 4 times more hazardous than the soil. A “Health Physicist”

    You’re claiming to be a health physicist, and you don’t understand that the physical form in which a potentially hazardous material is found makes a difference? You’re not going to ingest or inhale a lot of heavy metal from a lump of coal, are you? Whereas this material can leach into groundwater, settle at the bottom of a watercourse then be remobilised by a flood, or dry and blow around as dust. And you don’t understand that “dilution” does not necessarily take place evenly? Bah!

  175. #175 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    SC@163,
    Thanks – I missed that on my first read through.

  176. #176 Sven DiMilo
    December 24, 2008

    Surely A Health Physicist is also familiar with the concept of biomagnification.

  177. #177 BdN
    December 24, 2008

    BdN makes a reasonable argument about fisheries…that is or has been an ongoing practice. Once it is stopped, populations will bounce back over time. – A “Health Physicist”

    And an expert marine ecologist as well! Actually, ecosystems frequently show hysteresis: removing the cause of a change does not necessarily reverse the change. Take a look at the literature on lake eutrophication for a good example.

    I didn’t take the time to address since it became obvious at this point that he was clueless about ecology. Guess he’s never heard the word “extinction”. And guess deforestation and climate change are no big problems neither since everything will just bounce back. If that was the case, there would be no darn evolution in the first place… And, to use a really bad analogy, we shouldn’t be concerned about Darfur : everything will balance out some day or the other and it may even be beneficial for a part of the population…

  178. #178 Brononymous
    December 24, 2008

    Didn’t Al Gore use to represent this state?

  179. #179 Sven DiMilo
    December 24, 2008

    Didn’t Al Gore use to represent this state?

    Yes, that’s right, what a hypocrite, huh? I also hear that he sometimes flies on airplanes! Good thing he didn’t get picked by the Supreme Court to be President!

  180. #180 Jadehawk
    December 24, 2008

    I’m thinking about it. And it’s making we laugh. Is that going to be the PR slogan that heralds the triumphant return of nuclear power?

    “NUCULAR! It’s killed less people than doctors, so far!”

    why does that make me think of the Itchy&Scratchy cartoon in which scratchy gets sliced apart by a wind mill…

  181. #181 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    So we can use a power source that produces huge amounts of waste, which lasts forever, much of which is ejected into the environment as a normal part of plant operation, and the rest of which could easily escape and contaminate large areas by accident.

    Or we could use nuclear power, and avoid all those problems.

    Unfortunately the anti-nuclear propaganda from the past 50 years is so deeply rooted in our society that even people in the rationalist community can be heard repeating it. Mind boggling. Sort of like when a vocal atheist manages to turn into a vocal christian nut. – Tercel

    The usual pro-nuke rhetoric: actual arguments weak or absent, but plenty of sneering at the opponents. Chernobyl managed to contaminate a good part of Europe, and make a considerable area uninhabitable for the forseeable future. I know, it was a poorly designed plant, and the operators were criminally irresponsible – but that’s the kind of thing you have to budget for. No nuclear power program, anywhere, AFAIK, has been able to insure itself commercially: they all rely on governments being willing to pick up the tab for really large-scale accidents – which suggests these cannot be ruled out, or commercial insurers and reinsurers would be willing to carry the non-existent risk for a trivial sum. Add in the waste disposal problem and proliferation risks (there is no way to eliminate the latter entirely: the materials, technoloiges and skills required for nuclear power and nuclear weapons are just too close), and use of nuclear power is something we should minimise. New nuclear is also a very slow and expensive way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: demand reduction, energy efficiency and several types of renewable can all be deployed faster.

    Also, nuclear proponents (like myself) recognize that we don’t have to keep using the relatively primitive fuel cycles we have now forever. – Gordon

    True, but none of these are available now, or will be available in the near future – which is when we need them. Also, I’m unconvinced that any remove proliferation risk – especially as you can bet your life there will be teams working to ensure that weapons-grade material can be extracted from any fuel cycle you develop.

  182. #182 Dale Husband
    December 24, 2008

    A Health Physicist is being a trolling idiot. It’s the vast amount of ash produced by the burning of coal that makes it “seriously nasty stuff”, not merely its content, though that must be considered as well.

    Everyone look at that article P Z linked to:
    Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

    And we all know how dangerous nuclear waste is and thus it must be stored well away from people.

    Scientific American as a magazine has more credibility than someone from out of nowhere spitting in the wind.

  183. #183 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 24, 2008

    SC@167,
    Sorry, not ignoring you – just coming late to the thread, reading through and finding stuff that absolutely requires an immediate answer ;-) Must practice doing a quick scan right through before posting anything!

  184. #184 Knight Stivender
    December 24, 2008

    Yes, it does feel like the national media has been SLOW to pick up on this story. Is it because of the holidays? Is it because it’s rural Tennessee? Here’s an interesting roundup of how the national story has (or HASN’T) followed the story so far: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20081224/GREEN02/81224010.

  185. #185 Steven Dunlap
    December 24, 2008

    And 36 ppm in the blood is not directly related to 5 ppm in an environmental media. You have to consider uptake and excretion.
    I think you are very confused.

    BTW, lead is not excreted, it accumulates in the bone and blood. That’s why it’s so dangerous, and in small amounts. And uptake by children is much greater than adults due to their metabolisms. I refer you to the work of Claire Patterson (actually a man, not a woman) who pioneered the study of lead in the environment (mostly the atmosphere). But that’s not the point of replying.

    Here is the final statement in my post:

    A more pertinent question would be to ask 10 times more of how much of what rather than write off a factor of 10 as insignificant without further consideration.

    That was the point. Writing off a 10 x increase in heavy metals in the environment without any further consideration does not constitute a good approach to evaluating information. Also, the expert you mentioned who stated that the risks were low was speaking about radiation from coal ash, not heavy metal poisoning:

    Dana Christensen, associate lab director for energy and engineering at ORNL, says that health risks from radiation in coal by-products are low. [emphasis mine].

    This was a very dishonest use of source material.

  186. #186 Chris A.
    December 24, 2008

    Been saying it for years, No such thing as clean coal.

    It will always be an oxymoron

  187. #187 Sean McCorkle
    December 24, 2008

    fyi – the story made the NBC Nightly News tonight (24 Dec)
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/#28382451

  188. #188 Tercel
    December 24, 2008

    Nick Gotts, #181:

    I know I didn’t include any arguments in my post. It was a comment, not an argument. I thought that was clear. I’ve argued the nuclear power issue at great length in the past, and I’m just so tired of repeating the same corrections to the same errors over and over again. If you are saying that I didn’t include any arguments, therefore I lose, you win, and nuclear is evil, then go ahead. I simply don’t have the energy left to keep correcting you every time you’re wrong.

    You win, you’ve tired me out. Good for you.

  189. #189 Vorn
    December 25, 2008

    As of right now, an article on the coal ash spill is just left of the picture on the front page.

  190. #190 Charon
    December 25, 2008

    This showed up on the NY Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/25/us/25sludge.html?_r=1&hp

    The article focuses, properly it seems based on above comments, on the heavy metal toxicity issue rather than the apparently dubious radioactivity in the link PZ had.

  191. #191 Charon
    December 25, 2008

    Not to imply that “A Health Physicist” has more credibility than Scientific American. Just that the heavy metal toxicity thing seems more important.

    And the only people defending the safety of this stuff that the NY Times could find have a financial interest in it being safe, i.e., they operate coal plants or are heavily lobbied by them. The EPA not regulating this stuff properly is no defense of its safety, as the Times article demonstrates.

  192. #192 epsilon
    December 25, 2008

    It’s sad that I’m about 20 miles away from Chattanooga right now and this is the first that I’ve heard of this. Why is no one talking about this?

  193. #193 windy
    December 25, 2008

    tceisele:

    This spill is bad, but it is a mechanical dirt spill that will pour a lot of silt into the rivers and kill a lot of fish by smothering them, not a major radiochemical hazard.

    Yeah it’s only the most biologically diverse river basin in North America with the highest number of endangered species! So who cares if a lot of fish are killed as long as they’re mechanically smothered!

  194. #194 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    If you are saying that I didn’t include any arguments, therefore I lose, you win, and nuclear is evil – Tercel

    I’m not saying “nuclear is evil”, moron. That’s the kind of crap, with a reversed sign, that I expect from you. I’m saying it has serious drawbacks and pretending it doesn’t is either stupid or dishonest.

  195. #195 SC, OM
    December 25, 2008

    I’ve argued the nuclear power issue at great length in the past, and I’m just so tired of repeating the same corrections to the same errors over and over again.

    Here is Rhodes; leap here!

  196. #196 'Tis Himself
    December 25, 2008

    Just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a cheap source of energy. Every form of energy has built-in costs. The problem is that there have been relatively cheap forms of energy available for millenia. But even supposedly free energy has prices. In pre-industrial times, the sailing ship was one of the most complicated pieces of machinery made, and the most sophisticated sailing vessel cannot go closer than about 30ş into the wind.

    Coal replaced wood as an energy source just as Europe became deforested. Oil replaced coal because oil was more versatile. I can remember in the 1950s when nuclear power was touted as the panacea for all our energy needs, like flying cars and trips to the Moon. But even then nuclear advocates like Rickover were warning about nuclear energy’s costs like radioactive byproducts with half-lifes of thousands of years. Now that oil is getting more difficult and costly to obtain, the question is what energy sources will be available and what are the associated costs.

    Libertarians and other wishful-thinkers have faith that some new, cheap (or even free) energy source will miraculously appear to replace oil. Personally, I’m not so sanguine. I suspect that the next few generations will curse us for wasting all the relatively cheap energy sources.

  197. #197 John C. Randolph
    December 25, 2008

    Libertarians and other wishful-thinkers have faith that some new, cheap (or even free) energy source will miraculously appear to replace oil.

    Many alternatives already exist, and people will shift to them to greater or lesser extents, depending on the costs. Gasoline is still very popular because it’s got a great power-to-weight ratio, and it’s still pretty cheap (especially with the recent crash in the oil market).

    I’m sure that we’ll eventually move primarily to biodiesel for transportation fuels. Could take a decade, could take five decades. The feedstock might be algae, or hemp, or some kind of bacteria, it doesn’t really matter much. Whatever it turns out to be, it will replace petroleum the way that kerosene replaced whale oil, no miracles needed.

    -jcr

  198. #198 Steven Dunlap
    December 25, 2008

    @ 197 John C. Randolph

    I’m sure that we’ll eventually move primarily to biodiesel for transportation fuels. Could take a decade, could take five decades.

    Libertarians are very good at making rational arguments, even hyper-rational arguments. The logic and rationality work well as far as they go. The only trouble comes from the use of evidence and some fundamental assumptions. The statement that economic forces will compel us to use bio-fuels or more “green” fuels in the future, although obviously true, ignores the fact that we do not know if this transition will happen in time to forestall other negative effects (i.e.: global warming). Humanity is engaged in a vast uncontrolled experiment to find out how much punishment the planet can take before it can no longer support over 5 Billion humans. I’ve never seen anyone effectively connect the dots between economic forces and environmental ones. We’ll find out for certain when/if the cockroaches and rats inherit the Earth.

    I would much prefer to be wrong in this case. For all our sakes I hope that the Libertarians are right (after all, a stopped clock is right twice a day). 50 years from now they’ll be even more insufferable but at least there will be people around to be annoyed by them.

  199. #199 'Tis Himself
    December 25, 2008

    Thank you, John C., for proving that I was right. You, as a libertarian, trotted out a bit of wishful thinking about replacements for oil. I’m glad to see you’re following in the libertarian tradition. “If we wish hard enough, Tinkerbelle will live something will fix our problems.”

  200. #200 A Health Physicist
    December 25, 2008

    Water samples demonstrate no high levels of toxics. One TVA police officer slipped and fell. The original retention pond covered 40 acres and now the ash is dispersed over 400 acres…a 10 times reduction in contaminant concentrations.

    Damn that science.

    http://www.tva.gov/emergency/ashslide_kingston.htm

  201. #201 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    I find it extremely alarming that morons like “A Health Physicist” are in charge of nuclear safety. Judging by #200, he presumably thinks the best way to deal with nuclear waste is to spread it around as liberally as possible.

  202. #202 A Health Physicist
    December 25, 2008

    Sorry…the radioactivity and heavy metals in the coal ash came from the earth…now their back in earth.

    I find it extremely alarming that morons like you can’t see that.

  203. #203 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    JCR, ‘Tis Himself,

    There’s an interesting attempt to show the feasibility of replacing the USA’s transport fuels by biodiesel (using algae and hemp as feedstocks) at
    UNH Biodiesel Group. I lack the expertise to assess it, but somewhat to my surprise it’s not obviously daft. However, the page was last updated in 2004 (this may not mean much – I know my research group lacks the resources to keep our website up to date), and complains about lack of funding (from either government or private sources). Possibly Obama will put government funds into this: making it work on the required scale would require first a lot of research, then large-scale capital investment, although one advantage is that current diesel ICEs could run on the fuel produced.

  204. #204 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    “Sorry…the radioactivity and heavy metals in the coal ash came from the earth…now their back in earth.” – A Health Physicist

    No they’re not, you idiot – they are spread around on its surface, in a form that could seep into water supplies, and is readily blown about once it dries. See the difference?

  205. #205 A Health Physicist
    December 25, 2008

    Sorry, you idiot, but the water sample results are below legal limits. It can blow about all its wants…it’s the same as dirt blowing about.

    I’m sorry this accident doesn’t meet your ideological need for a toxic disaster. See the difference?

  206. #206 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    Health Physicist,
    You’re getting pretty desperate aren’t you? You made the stupid claim that the waste was back in the earth, and now I’ve pointed out that that is crap, you switch to another, and equally ludicrous claim. If it was “the same as dirt blowing about”, there would have been no point in containing it in the first place, would there? Could just have made it into a nice garden and sold the vegetables from it.

    And I have no “ideological need for a toxic disaster”. You are the one with a direct, financial interest in downplaying the risks of waste containment failures.

  207. #207 A Health Physicist
    December 25, 2008

    HA! Yeah, I made millions of dollars off of this! I can’t wait for the next one!

    Why don’t you give Mommy back her computer…it consumes electric power and contains toxic elements.

    Oh…you must have a direct, financial interest in computers.

  208. #208 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    @207,
    Pathetic.

  209. #209 A Health Physicist
    December 25, 2008

    Just because wastes are isolated, doesn’t mean they are necessarily dastardly. You can’t have anyone disposing of anything anywhere…so wastes are contained based on their relative hazards.

    Household wastes are contained in lined, engineered landfills. Does that make household trash seriously, nasty? Guess where the coal fly ash goes when it gets disposed of? In the same type of landfills.

    When coal fly ash is recycled, it goes into many products…it is used in soils and fertilizers to grow plants. And many of the products end up in the same landfills as your household trash…and you eat many of the plants grown in fly ash contaminated soil.

    http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/imr/ccps/flyash.htm

    http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=1970649

    Based on toxicity studies it is not considered a toxic or hazardous waste by the EPA. It is not considered a radioactive waste by the NRC. It is considered more or less a nuisance dust by OSHA.

    The science is done…it is pathetic to ignore the science and blow the toxicity of coal ash out of proportion to its known toxicity.

  210. #210 John C. Randolph
    December 25, 2008

    Thank you, John C., for proving that I was right.

    What a tenuous grasp of language you have. I refuted your claim that transitioning from one fuel to other fuels requires anything miraculous. People have always made economic choices, no magic needed.

    -jcr

  211. #211 John C. Randolph
    December 25, 2008

    Possibly Obama will put government funds into this:

    Given the history of Ethanol, I certainly hope not. When alternative fuels make sense, it won’t take tax money to get them into our cars.

    -jcr

  212. #212 SC, OM
    December 25, 2008

    Just because wastes are isolated, doesn’t mean they are necessarily dastardly.

    Oh, I don’t know about that. I’ve seen them twirl their chemical moustaches and turn toxic tail at the sight of a clean-up crew.

  213. #213 Sven DiMilo
    December 25, 2008

    The original retention pond covered 40 acres and now the ash is dispersed over 400 acres…a 10 times reduction in contaminant concentrations.

    Figuring out why this is the stupidest thing AHP has written yet is left as an exercise for the reader.

  214. #214 thalarctos
    December 25, 2008

    Figuring out why this is the stupidest thing AHP has written yet is left as an exercise for the reader.

    If he really is a health physicist who makes decisions involving radiation and people’s exposure, I hope he isn’t making that kind of elementary arithmetic error on the job everyday.

  215. #215 John C. Randolph
    December 25, 2008

    Yeah, I made millions of dollars off of this!

    What’s the ticker symbol for containment failure futures? I think I’ll check with my broker to see if I can get some of that action.

    -jcr

  216. #216 John Phillips, FCD
    December 25, 2008

    I personally am not against nuclear power, or at least I am willing to consider it as a possible short to medium term fill in, simply recognising that it has many problems, both perceived and real. However, if AHP is truly an example of the type of person working in the industry, then based on his performance here, I am rapidly coming round to being totally opposed to it.

  217. #217 John C. Randolph
    December 25, 2008

    I personally am not against nuclear power

    I’m against it, until and unless the Price-Anderson act is repealed. Giving nuclear plant operators an arbitrary cap of $200M in liability for accidents is highly irresponsible, and typical of how governments can really botch it when they want to promote a technology.

    -jcr

  218. #218 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    Given the history of Ethanol, I certainly hope not. When alternative fuels make sense, it won’t take tax money to get them into our cars. – jcr

    As usual, you miss the point. It is not a matter of “oil price goes up, biodiesel is produced on a significant scale”. Years if not decades of unprofitable research and development are going to be required. Alternative fuels would make sense now in terms of slowing anthropogenic climate change if (unlike ethanol-from-corn) they could be produced at a significant saving in emissions and without using too much good land or cutting down lots of trees. Markets are inherently short-termist and ignore negative externalities unless forced not to, because capital goes where most profit can be made quickly. What part of this don’t you grasp?

  219. #219 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    AHP@209,
    Oddly enough, your links are entirely uninformative about toxicity. I wonder why.

  220. #220 A Health Physicist
    December 25, 2008

    No wonder….not very toxic.

    Here’s the EPA’s rules on hazardous wastes:

    http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_06/40cfr261_06.html

    Here’s the EPA’s rules on toxic wastes:

    http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_06/40cfrv30_06.html

    Here’s OSHA’s air contaminants (Table Z-3):

    http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2006/julqtr/29cfr1910.1000.htm

    The stated (or unstated) results derive from all major toxicological studies to the date of publication. If you have some new ones which differ significantly, you should contact one of these agencies.

    If you’re fantasizing…please stop.

  221. #221 John C. Randolph
    December 25, 2008

    Years if not decades of unprofitable research and development are going to be required.

    Like the years of work that Edison, Tesla and the Wright brothers did?

    Your contention that these things can only be done at taxpayers’ expense doesn’t hold water.

    -jcr

  222. #222 John C. Randolph
    December 25, 2008

    Markets are inherently short-termist and ignore negative externalities unless forced not to, because capital goes where most profit can be made quickly.

    I take it you’ve never actually worked in the capital markets. Capital goes wherever someone finds a risk/reward proposition that meets their needs. Some people buy 30-year notes that pay a few percent a year. Other people buy very highly leveraged investments that can pay much higher returns, with a greater risk of loss.

    Your statement that “markets are inherently short-termist” is rather superficial, to say the least.

    -jcr

  223. #223 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    Like the years of work that Edison, Tesla and the Wright brothers did?

    All these cases are a long time ago, when there were many “low-hanging fruit” in technological terms; and in the case of the Wright brothers at least (I don’t know enough about the others), their work took a long time to have any practical impact. Nor were any of their inventions essential to the survival of civilisation. We simply can’t afford to wait until the market decides it’s time to invest in alternatives to petroleum: aside from possible oil shortages, burning fossil fuels threatens all our futures. Your faith that the market will respond in time, and in the right way is just that – a religious faith. There are what may well be more profitable alternatives to biodiesel: Canada’s tar sands, oil shales, and coal-to-oil. Any of these will be utterly disastrous in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but the market can’t take that into account – unless governments set up an entirely artificial market in carbon permits, backed by international agreement, and enforcement of penalties for emissions without a permit. That’s what I mean by short-termism – not whether some investment goes into 30-year bonds. You think 30 years is long-term? Pffft.

    Capital goes wherever someone finds a risk/reward proposition that meets their needs.

    Like into credit default swaps for example – oh, the wisdom of the market! For another example, into “mining” forests and fisheries, rather than sustainable use.

    Let’s take a clear case from the recent past where leaving it to the market would have led to disaster: CFCs. Useful products, which just happened to be destroying the ozone layer. No individual producer had any incentive to stop making them – others would simply have stepped up their production. Nor was there any market incentive to invest in alternatives – so no-one had. If governments had not stepped in to ban their production – at the insistence of scientists – the destruction would have continued, with catastrophic results.

    I am not prepared to gamble the future on your religious faith in markets.

  224. #224 John C. Randolph
    December 25, 2008

    there were many “low-hanging fruit” in technological terms;

    If you imagine that the incandescent bulb or the first flight were “low-hanging fruit”, then you’re sadly uninformed on the history of those inventions.

    Like into credit default swaps for example

    Or thirty-year treasury bills, or letters of credit for crop shipments from one port to another, and so forth. You may want to pretend otherwise, but your claim was trivially disproven.

    I am not prepared to gamble the future on your religious faith in markets.

    Markets have self-correction mechanisms that governments don’t, and governments have historically been the most egregious polluters. Do “Lake Baikal” or “Savannah River Plant” ring any bells with you?

    -jcr

  225. #225 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    AHP,

    Here’s what the NY Times says:

    “But a draft report last year by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that fly ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal to produce electricity, does contain significant amounts of carcinogens and retains the heavy metal present in coal in far higher concentrations. The report found that the concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold.

    Similarly, a 2006 study by the federally chartered National Research Council found that these coal-burning byproducts “often contain a mixture of metals and other constituents in sufficient quantities that they may pose public health and environmental concerns if improperly managed.” The study said “risks to human health and ecosystems” might occur when these contaminants entered drinking water supplies or surface water bodies.

    In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed stricter federal controls of coal ash, but backed away in the face of fierce opposition from utilities, the coal industry, and Clinton administration officials. At the time, the Edison Electric Institute, an association of power utilities, estimated that the industry would have to spend up to $5 billion in additional cleanup costs if the substance were declared hazardous. Since then, environmentalists have urged tighter federal standards, and the E.P.A. is reconsidering its decision not to classify the waste as hazardous.

    So the issue isn’t as clear-cut as you like to claim. Note particularly the parts I have bolded. Your implicit faith in the coal industry is touching, but possibly misplaced.

  226. #226 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    jcr@224,

    Lake Baikal shows the danger of undemocratic governments; the Savannah River Plant, of govenment activities exempted from proper scrutiny. It remains the case that the countries with the best environmental protection have strong governments.

    I see you completely ignore my example of CFCs, and the problems of greenhouse gas emissions; nor do you deal with the point that to describe 30 years as long-term is ludicrous where issues of pollution and resource depletion are concerned. I begin to suspect that like creationists, you simply don’t see points that disprove your religious faith. How exactly would the “self-correcting mechanisms” of the market have halted CFC production? How will they control greenhouse gas emissions?

  227. #227 Sean McCorkle
    December 25, 2008

    Just tossing this out as food for thought, following up on the early comments on fly ash being useful in cement (Wikipedia says its mostly SiO2 and CaO): NY Times says millions of cubic yards were released. If thats a typical amount collected at coal burning plants, I wonder if there’s a cheap way (like microbial or phytoremediation) to harvest the heavy metals during or before the reprocessing. Maybe some of the metal species might make it worth the while? (I know this doesn’t address the issue of direct injection of fossil carbon into the atmosphere though- I’m not arguing for coal power)

  228. #228 Don
    December 25, 2008

    Sure, the Wrights (and Lillienthal, Bleriot, Santos-Dumont, Zepplelin etc) were all entrepreneurs- but none of their research would have amounted to much without massive taxpayer investment.

  229. #229 Don
    December 25, 2008

    woops- ‘Zeppelin’

  230. #230 A Hea
    December 25, 2008

    I have no “faith” in the coal industry, I’m not speaking for them or against them…I’m only speaking on the known toxicology of coal fly ash, represented by its classification by the U.S. E.P.A.

    As you post, it is not classified as a hazardous waste. Hundreds of thousands of other wastes are…therefore, it is not seriously nasty stuff. Some of the wastes classified as hazardous are only “mildly nasty”, some are “seriously nasty” and some are “very seriously nasty”.

    Coals ash doesn’t hit nasty and you shouldn’t quote the popular press for your insights into toxicology. They haven’t got a clue. You can tell by use of the word “might or may”…that really has no meaning…anything may or might happen. Those are just prelude words describing why a regulation is being considered.

    The first report mentioned is found here:
    http://www.epa.gov/EPA-WASTE/2007/August/Day-29/f17138.htm

    The EPA considered revising its regs and found there was no significant risk basis to do so.

    The second report was dealing with the analysis of long term storage of coal ash back into coal mines. The report examines a specific long term storage scenario.

    http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=11592

    I’ll take the reporting on the 2000 report at face value…that was almost 9 years ago. The EPA (and all the other safety agencies)routinely considers revising its regulations and affected industries routinely spend money to fight increased regulation.

    The EPA has not changed the classification of coal ash as hazardous. Other industries fought against increased regulation and yet many have had their wastes classified as hazardous. The EPA will go with the toxicology, unless it is very weak. They are not pro-coal any more than they are pro-anything.

    If you have compelling toxicology to convince the EPA to change their classification, please tell them. If not, coal fly ash is not a hazardous waste. It is not seriously, nasty stuff. Stick with reality.

  231. #231 A Health Physicist
    December 25, 2008

    I see my name got cut-off on my last post. It’s not part of a covert coal industry or government secrecy plot. Just a simple error.

    Happy Newton’s Day!

  232. #232 'Tis Himself
    December 25, 2008

    Or thirty-year treasury bills, or letters of credit for crop shipments from one port to another, and so forth. You may want to pretend otherwise, but your claim was trivially disproven.

    Another example of our pet libertarian showing his ignorance about economics. (But that’s a requirement to be a libertarian, isn’t it, John?).

    Long-term bonds are low risk, low yield investments.

    Letters of credit are financial documents issued usually by financial institutions, used primarily in trade finance, which provide an irrevocable payment undertaking to a beneficiary against complying documents as stated in the Letter of Credit. They are used primarily in international trade transactions of significant value, for deals between a supplier in one country and a customer in another. Usually letters of credit have a termination date, often 60 or 90 days from issue, to cover the time spent transferring goods from one place to another.

    Long term bonds and letters of credit have little in common other than being financial paper.

    John, I remember you whined about me being snotty towards you. I’ve got a solution for that. You stop showing your ignorance about economics and finance and I’ll stop pointing out your ignorance.

  233. #233 windy
    December 25, 2008

    Nick Gotts wrote
    Lake Baikal shows the danger of undemocratic governments

    What are you guys talking about? The main impact in Baikal so far has been from the pulp and paper mill and I don’t think that sort of activity is limited to either governments or non-democratic countries.

    Anyways, Happy Monkey to everyone!

  234. #234 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    The EPA (and all the other safety agencies)routinely considers revising its regulations and affected industries routinely spend money to fight increased regulation. – AHP

    Well now, why would they do need to do that if the EPA simply “goes with the toxicology”? They’re not going to spend money unless they think it will make a difference, are they?

    The second report you cite is headed:
    “Putting Coal Ash Back Into Mines a Viable Option for Disposal, But Risks Must Be Addressed”

    Now if this material is the equivalent of soil, as you’ve been claiming, what risks could there be? The report specifically mentions that:

    “The data indicate that adverse environmental impacts can occur when coal ash containing toxic chemicals has contact with water or when the residues are not properly covered.”

    The stuff spilled is certainly in contact with water, and is certainly not covered.

  235. #235 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 25, 2008

    windy@233,
    What I meant was that where the government is not subject to democratic control, it is very difficult for those with evidence of environmental problems to get a hearing, let alone remediation. The Lake Baikal Paper Mill was opened in 1954, in soviet times – there were apparenrtly protests, but these were ignored. It has in fact just been closed:

    http://www.conservationtoday.org/index.php?/News/Country/Lake-Baikal-Campaigners-Defeat-Pollution.html.
    Other sources suggest there is controversy about the extent of the damage it has caused. Certainly it is a trivial issue compared to CFCs or greenhouse gas emissions, which JCR has not addressed (and which I will continue to raise until he does).

    JCR has been claiming that governments do not have self-correction mechanisms. Governments in states with democratic institutions do, of course: elections, a free press, freedom of association, etc. They don’t always work, but we can improve them. What we very often find in practice is that big business subverts these mechanisms in its own interest. Sometimes, as in the Savannah River Plant case, “national security” is used to avoid these mechanisms by governments even in countries with such institutions.

  236. #236 Calton Bolick
    December 25, 2008

    #162 The reason there is greater biodiversity around Chernobyl is because there are almost no human beings there.

    Given that that was precisely the point he was making — the greater impact of human settlement and infringement versus other causes — I fail to see the idiocy here. At least from him.

    Oh, and the “ZOMG, the Media aren’t covering this!” is silly: I learned about this from the Rachel Maddow Show — and she certainly treated it as if everyone knew, as she was using it to illustrate a larger point about infrastructure rebuilding — and a Google News search I just did for “Tennessee sludge” pulled up 791 hits, including CNN, Boston Globe, New York Times, etc.

  237. #237 Ian Gould
    December 26, 2008

    I worked for the Queensland EPA for about a decade.

    Queensland has a LOT of coal – as in half the state, literally is built on the stuff as in we use it for virtually all our electricity generation and we’re one of the world’s largest exporters of the stuff.

    I spent a lot of time dealing with the mining inudstry and coal-powered power plants.

    I saw a hell of a lot of environmental harm resulting from mining activities.

    But fly ash is one of the last serious problems out there. Give me a fly ash impoundment over waste heaps from a copper mine any day.

    Having said that – while I witnessed successive Queensland governments spread their legs for the mining companies like $5 whores, the shit that the West Virginia miners get away with would never be tolerated here.

    We don’t allow mountain-removal mining and we don’t let companies put fly ash impoundments next to water ways.

    On a second point, the use of “clean coal” by the US mining industry to describe any reduction in pollution from coal mining or combustion seems largely to be confined to the US.

    Over here. clean coal refers primarily to carbon capture – which admittedly has plenty of problems itself.

    Here’s the bottom line as I see it – we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 or 90%, that’s going to cost trillions and take decades.

    We can minimise that time and cost by ensuring that whatever fossil fuels we continue to use are used as efficiently as possible.

    If we assume we’re going to continue emit carbon dioxide at 10-20% of current levels then the more power we can squeeze out of that, the less we need to spend on alternatives and the faster the transition will be complete.

  238. #238 gmm
    December 26, 2008

    http://earthblips.dailyradar.com/video/big_coal_big_lies_5_our_opponents_are_communists_and/

    Communists Athiests- enemies of “clean coal” up there with bin Laden folks

  239. #239 Nick Gotts, OM
    December 26, 2008

    I see John C. Randolph has “bravely turned his tail and fled” rather than try to explain how the market would have saved us from the destruction of the ozone layer by CFCs, and how it is going to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions fall as necessary to halt anthropogenic climate change.

  240. #240 Jaketoadie
    December 26, 2008

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/us/27sludge.html

    It now looks like the spill was much larger than originally estimated. It in fact exceeded the amount that the pond was supposed to contain by over 2 times.

  241. #241 Sven DiMilo
    December 26, 2008

    It doesn’t matter how much was spilled; nobody was killed. Oh, OK, it spilled through a whole watershed but no problem because coal fly ash is totally nontoxic and benign. Oh, OK, maybe not totally nontoxic and benign but, uh, hey,it could have been worse! So quit bitching.

  242. #242 Idoubtit
    December 26, 2008

    I’ve read through all the comments – this has been really enlightening and really ridiculous thread of comments. First, some have pointed out that the SciAm article on the “radioactivity of coal ash” was very poorly done, the headline didn’t match the facts in the report. And, parts are simply untrue. Plus, why would I necessarily trust a pop-sci magazine regarding all science topics?

    Curiously, it’s so obvious how much misinfomation and misunderstanding exists out there about “clean coal”. Thanks to lobbyists on both sides, I think. It seems like the new admininstration might need to define their terms before deciding exactly what they are going to support.

    Third, my favorite quote was about the chocolate pudding. Sure, I wouldn’t eat coal ash and I’d rather not breathe it or grow food in it. But, it isn’t going to kill you under normal circumstances and, used in a proper way, it can be HIGHLY beneficial. That said, this was not normal circumstances and is not “used in a proper way”. It was carelessness and it’s bad. The results may be regulation of something that doesn’t need additional regulation. Here we have a case of better due diligence and enforcement of regulations that can do a good job. Putting any impoundments, even a chocolate pudding one, next to a river and allowing it to fail is grounds for harsh punishment.

  243. #243 John C. Randolph
    December 27, 2008

    I see John C. Randolph has “bravely turned his tail and fled”

    Nick, if the day ever comes when I find you frightening, the biggest environmental issue we will face will be the flying pigs blocking the sun.

    -jcr

  244. #244 'Tis Himself
    December 27, 2008

    John C. Randolph,

    If you haven’t fled, why don’t you answer Nick’s questions about how the market would have saved us from the destruction of the ozone layer by CFCs, and how it is going to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions fall as necessary to halt anthropogenic climate change?

    In my discussions with libertarians I’ve found they’re often very good at ideology and describing theoretical situations. However, when faced with real world problems, they fall on their faces. “The market will fix it” is a slogan describing wishful thinking, not a concrete means of dealing with specific situations.

  245. #245 Tony Miller
    December 27, 2008

    Thought I would let you know I finally saw something about this on CNN.

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/12/26/tennessee.sludge/index.html

  246. #246 Loki
    December 28, 2008

    I live in East Tennessee and a friend of mine lives near the steam plant. He uploaded some shots of the river afterward to his flickr stream.

  247. #247 Sman
    December 28, 2008

    Wow! So ,many ad homenimsinsults, and strawman arguments… I would’ve thunk better!

    Cheers! To the rest!!!

  248. #248 Dave
    December 28, 2008

    I’ve been to Little Blue Run numerous times over the years. We used to think it was cool because if the moon was in the right spot the reflection it produced on the lake was an awesome sight to behold.

    But after having seen the damage created by a fly-ash basin 1/30th the size of Little Blue Run Dam Lake…It’s frightening what could happen if the dam ever broke. It sits at the very top of the hills above Chester, WV, and across the river from East Liverpool, OH, home of one of the worlds hazardous waste incinerators. 1300 acres of water and sludge could come crashing down the hillside and do who knows what damage to the Ohio Valley and what lies downstream, as well as the low lying communities immediately adjacent.

  249. #249 rijkswaanvijand
    December 28, 2008

    “Hey, guess what? Dihydrogen Monoxide has lots of risks…it’s killed lots of people…let’s run from it, complain about it, ban it.

    No…why not?”

    Dear nutty phisicist,

    Try drinking ash sludge for a change..
    Any contamination of clean surface waters,surely when on a large scale like this one, IS a serious problem and quite nasty stuff!

  250. #250 Sili
    December 31, 2008

    Stupid question, but if heavy metals are concentrated by an order of magnitude in the ash, shouldn’t it be easier to extract them for use? There must be some economy of scale to this.

  251. #251 Brian Macker
    December 31, 2008

    “It remains the case that the countries with the best environmental protection have strong governments.”

    Yeah, the U.S.S.R. was suffering from a lack of strong government. Methinks someone confuses countries that have had strong economies due to a lack of government power, and thus having a tax base, with those that actually have the governmental muscle to do as they please. Strong governments like the ones Stalin and Hitler had. Unlike the weakened ones that are restricted by constitutions and natural rights, like ours (is suppose to be).

  252. #252 Knock Goats
    December 31, 2008

    You’re a fucking moron, Macker. “It remains the case that the countries with the best environmental protection have strong governments.” does not imply “All countries with strong governments have good environmental protection”. Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark have strong governments, supported by high tax rates, and far better environmental protection than the USA, or just about anywhere else.

  253. #253 Clean Coal Energy
    January 20, 2009

    The discussion is quiet interesting . which is been explpianed the other changes takes place when the energy is been reduced . Let us know some more detailly redarding this changes takes place.

  254. #254 Al Gerhart
    April 5, 2009

    Neither a coal or nuclear plant detractor here, nor do I want to minimize any risk from these large lakes of fly ash. I do want to point out that 10 x increase in heavy metals isn’t huge. Compared to the heavy metal content in your average granite countertop, this fly ash is tame stuff.

    A few weeks ago a sample was tested at 10,260 ppm of Thallium and this was a sample from a countertop that had been removed from a home.

    http://forum.solidsurfacealliance.org/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=177

    Worry more about what is in your home than what is stockpiled in an industrial setting.

  255. #255 hery
    January 25, 2010

    Unburned fuel makes up less of the exhaust. Less pollution in terms of unburned fuel.