Combustion Waste

At the May, 2001 town meeting, citizens in Freetown, MA voted to end the dumping of coal ash in unlined pits in their neighborhoods. Their vote was challenged by the landfill operator and PG&E but was upheld by the Attorney General. Now it is time to regulate combustion waste across the State.

Fly ash facts

Fly ash, also known as coal combustion waste and coal ash, is the byproduct of burning coal, and is produced in massive quantities by the power production industry.

Fly ash contains many heavy metals known to damage human health including arsenic, mercury, cadmium, chromium, vanadium, zinc, cobalt, lead, barium, nickel, selenium, and sodium.

For years the electric utilities have been allowed to dispose of the fly ash as if it were regular garbage, in unlined pits. This practice has lead to water supplies across the nation being threatened by the toxics seeping into the water sources.

EPA determination

The EPA was considering changing the designation of fly ash to toxic waste this past spring, and posted proposals to do so on their website. Last minute meetings with high pressure utility companies, including PG&E pushed them to a weaker proposal, where the US EPA will simply urge states to require liners at disposal sites and regular monitoring of nearby water sources. Without federal regulations on this issue, it is likely that many of the states currently without such requirements, inclcuding Massachusetts, will continue to allow the power plants to dispose of coal waste in unlined pits.

Local concerns

Beverly, MA

The Vitale site was the receptor for the fly ash from the Salem Harbor Station from the 1950s until the 1970s. Three sites of disposal (the Nike Missile Site, Airport General Aviation Services Site, and the Vitale site) lie up-gradient of Wenham Lake. A total of 80,000 Beverly and Salem residents get their drinking water from Wenham Lake. Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon is pursuing construction proposals on the site for an ice rink and playing fields. Many local citizens are concerned that the development will stir up the fly ash and increase the downgradient movement of the toxics into their water supply.

Already an arsenic plume and TCE (a toxic and potentially carconigenic chemical) plume have been found on the site. An environmental risk assessment done by Ransom, Inc. found that there was little risk on the site, but many question the validity of the testing.

Thanks to the Wenham Lake Watershed Associaiton, the prior owners of the power plant have agreed to clean up their mess.