EPA Ruling on Hazardous Waste Label for Fly Ash

Written by Matthew Kyler LEED AP, BD + C

With the ever increasing trend of the use of Fly Ash as a cement replacement, the building industry has been closely watching EPA’s decisions on whether or not it would classify Fly Ash as a hazardous material. The EPA’s change in stance on Coal Combustion Residuals (CCRs), which includes fly ash, boiler slag, gypsum board and other materials, is in response to an accident in December of 2008 where an earthen dam in Kingston, TN gave way releasing a 40-acre pond of fly ash slurry. This event and the following cleanup efforts prompted the EPA to review its position on fly ash. Previously, the EPA had ruled that fly ash and other CCRs were not considered to be classified as hazardous wastes (May 22, 2000, March 31, 1999, and August 9, 1993) (1); however, after the event in Eastern Tennessee, some regulation was determined to be necessary.

On June 21, 2010 the EPA released a draft ruling declaring CCRs to be one of two types of hazardous wastes. This decision by the EPA would focus on changing how fly ash is regulated for disposal and storage, while it would leave intact a previous ruling permitting the beneficial use of fly ash and other CCRs. In short, the EPA is fully endorsing the environmental benefits of using fly ash as a cement replacement in concrete and is not changing their regulation with regard to this application. The public comment period is open until September 20, 2010 and the full text of the proposed ruling may be downloaded from the US Regulations Website at www.regulations.gov (2).

Since the EPA has moved to change its regulatory stance on fly ash several interested parties have stepped forward to voice their concerns. In March, 2010, Engineering News-Record included an editorial which praised the well known virtues of CCRs while pointing out some lesser known drawbacks. The editorial asserted that the main downside to coal fly ash is the potential for chemical infiltration should it come into contact with groundwater (3). At the ACI Spring 2010 Xtream Concrete Convention in Chicago a group of experts, most of whom had a direct interest in maintaining the status quo, outlined potential scenarios for what may be the negative unintended consequences of the EPA regulating fly ash as a hazardous waste. Many of these concerns relate to stigmatizing fly ash with a negative classification, even if there are exclusions for usage in concrete. The complete webinar is available to ACI members online at www.concrete.org (4).

Sources:

1 EPA Website, www.epa.gov, titled ‘Fossil Fuel Combustion (FFC) Waste Legislative and Regulatory Time Line’

2 US Website for Regulations, www.regulations.gov, titled ‘Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System’

3 ENR Magazine Editorial, March 14, 2010, ‘Let’s Clear up the Fly-Ash Dilemma: Is It a Danger or Not?’

4 ACI Webcast, ‘123 Forum: Fly Ash Contributes to Sustainable Concrete Construction’

Pdf