Several of my colleagues have been blogging about coal ash -- waste from coal-fired power plants that is contaminated with toxic metals. More than two-thirds of this waste is dumped into landfills, storage ponds or old mines or otherwise stored somewhere. In Arkansas, some of this coal waste is dumped in pits used by the natural gas industry to store drilling waste, and buried. Some of these pits are on people's property, close to their homes, and the toxic ash blows in the air. Here are some photos of coal ash that settled on a plant and on a pool toy in people's yards.
Currently, this coal ash waste is exempt from regulation as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
RCRA is the principal federal law designed to ensure safe management of hazardous waste and prevent new toxic waste sites. It sets standards for waste management in order to prevent harm to human health and the environment, and provides a powerful incentive for a company to minimize waste and pollution.
Most oil and gas waste is also exempt from the hazardous waste provisions of RCRA, due to a 1988 EPA decision. At the time, an EPA official was quoted in the press as attributing this decision to "....solely political reasons, despite a scientific determination of the hazardousness of the waste." With cleaner, affordable alternatives available to industry, it's time to close this loophole.