'Dirty Pretty Things': Coal Ash Exposed

Clean coal, eh?  No such thing.  The stuff is dirty from the cradle to the grave.  Just consider coal ash.  Over 130 million tons of this so-called coal combustion waste -- containing nearly 100,000 tons of toxic metals -- is produced every year, as a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity at hundreds of U.S. power plants.

And yet the storage of coal ash isn't regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency because it's considered a non-toxic substance.  NRDC and other patners are pushing to get EPA to finally fulfill its long-delayed promise to issue federal standards requiring the treatment of coal ash as the "hazardous" waste it so obviously is.

NRDC's friend -- and phenomenal photographer -- J. Henry Fair is all about exposing the dangers of coal ash as part of his work specializing in capturing on film the large scale scars created by industrial waste.  Henry's remarkable new series of aerial photos document coal ash containment areas that EPA acknowledges would pose a high hazard potential should there be an impoundment failure -- as happened in December 2008 at the Kingston TVA plant in Tennessee.

His photos are up on GQ's website as a slideshow entitled Dirty Pretty Things.  

[UPDATE:  OnEarth features an audio slide show of Henry's photos.]

GQ describes Henry's post-industrial wasteland style of photography as "bizarrely gorgeous" and calls his coal ash images "simultaneously grotesque and beautiful", all of which is definitely true.  As Henry said to GQ:

"If you don't know what the images are they still look sinister.  We've seen too many photos of deforested hillsides.  It doesn't work any more.  The coal ash images have to be beautiful or else they would cause your eyes to glaze over.  I want to illustrate the two menaces of coal ash—the potential menace to people living nearby and the menace to the water supply.  Fifty percent of our electricity is generated by coal energy.  Maybe these pictures will get people to turn off their damn lights!"

You can view more of Henry's most recent photos here.  His stunning aerial shots were made possibly by the volunteer conservation pilots at Southwings.