The NRMCA has good reason for this concern. To comply with most building codes, engineers cannot legally use a hazardous waste material in concrete construction. In a Sept. 4, 2009 letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jack-son, American Concrete Institute (ACI) leadership warned the EPA of the classification's effect. “Designating fly ash as a ‘hazardous waste' will result in little or no fly ash being used in concrete in the U.S. We anticipate the concrete industry will no longer specify its use; and fly ash producers would not permit its beneficial use due to liability concerns, preferring to impound fly ash rather than allow its use.”

Leaders from the ASTM committee that develops standards for the use of fly ash in concrete expressed similar concerns. In a letter to administrator Jackson, they noted that the committee would have to advise users of their document that the EPA had given this material a hazardous classification.

Mixed signals

What is the Sierra Club telling its members? In an Aug. 8, 2010 blog post, Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, urged members not to believe the concrete industry's argument that the federal alternative would prohibit using fly ash in concrete.

Nilles attempted to discredit letters of support for fly ash written by 139 House members and 36 Senators. He claimed the letters “advance faulty claims that stringent federal safeguards for coal ash would stigmatize the coal ash recycling industry (coal ash is often recycled into concrete, bricks, etc...), with the Senate letter claiming even the proposed idea of this type of regulation has caused a downturn in the market.” Nilles continued, “What these letters choose to ignore is that EPA's proposals would completely exempt coal ash that's encapsulated from water and safely recycled into construction materials.”

Despite what Mr. Nilles says, most industry observers believe that if fly ash were labeled a hazardous waste, operators of coal-fired power plants would soon stop selling it. According to John Ward, chairman of Citizens for Recycling First, a Denver-based citizen action group supporting fly ash use, “The stigma created by incorrectly labeling coal ash ‘toxic' and ‘hazardous' makes people less likely to use the material. It also may cause utilities to withold coal ash from users because of fear of litigation.”

Imagine a concrete and cement industry without fly ash. Prices would rise, giving concrete an unfair disadvantage against petroleum-based products. Materials suppliers could be in jeopardy. Coal-fired power plants would face increased landfill costs and lost revenue. And most importantly, the construction industry would be without one of its most useful tools to promote concrete durability. The sustainable construction effort would be hampered as its greatest success would be mothballed.

For more background on this issue, read our Jan. 2010 article, "The Fly Ash Threat".

Citizens for Recycling First

Like-minded individuals have formed numerous citizen groups to present a united voice to government officials. These groups have become so entrenched that many senior federal officials deem them more important than elected officials, state agencies, and industry groups. To help counter the influence that many environmental special interest groups bring to the discussion of coal ash and the EPA's proposed “hazardous waste for disposal” approach, a new citizen group was recently formed.

Citizens for Recycling First allows individuals to unite in supporting coal ash recycling as a safe and environmentally preferable alternative to disposal. The group offers information on regulations under development and their potential impact on recycling, and an outlet to assertively challenge misleading news media characterizations of coal ash. Chairman John N. Ward is a consultant to the energy industry, with more than 12 years experience in marketing coal ash for environmentally beneficial uses.

Ward traveled to all of the EPA ruling meetings to provide testimony on behalf of the group. He hosts a blog on the group's Web site, in which he provides insights on current events affecting this issue.

Citizens for Recycling First reports to have more than 1200 citizen members, and is inviting more citizens to join in support of their activity.


[WEB EXTRA] Associates are helping producers learn more and weigh in about using fly ash in concrete.