Coal Ash: How It Affects The World

By: Zach Buhman

What Is Coal Ash?

Coal Ash is a waste product of burning coal, likely for coal power plants. "Depending on where the coal was mined, coal ash typically contains heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, as well as aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, boron, chlorine, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, thallium, vanadium, and zinc. If eaten, drunk or inhaled, these toxicants can cause cancer and nervous system impacts such as cognitive deficits, developmental delays and behavioral problems. They can also cause heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, birth defects, and impaired bone growth in children" (Physicians for Social Responsibility). Coal ash is detrimental to local neighborhoods, because of the many health problems associated with coal ash. The EPA estimates that 140 million tons of coal ash are generated annually. "More than a third is disposed in dry landfills, frequently at the power plant where the coal was burned. Coal ash may also be mixed with water and disposed in so-called “ponds” – some are more like small lakes – behind earthen walls. These wet “surface impoundments” account for about a fifth of coal ash disposal" (Physician for Social Responsibility).The coal ash ponds are not only more dangerous than the the dry landfills, they also harbor a negative visual impact on the ecosystem.

Ways to Help

There are many organizations dedicated to recycling and preventing coal ash pollution. One of these websites, , is "The American Coal Ash Association, established in 1968, is a nonprofit trade association devoted to recycling the materials created when we burn coal to generate electricity. Our members comprise the world's foremost experts on coal ash and other flue gas materials captured by emissions controls." They are an organization that help clean up, recycle, and reduce coal ash and ash ponds' emissions. Also, you could reduce coal usage in your home, by going with a renewable energy source, such as solar, geothermal, or wind. In reaction the the Dan River spill, John Skvarla, an executive at the Department of Environment and National Resources, said, "We’re doing everything in our power to prevent environmental disasters like what we've seen at the Dan River. We are committed to protecting public health and the natural resources of our state.”