The most significant toxic byproduct of burning coal is coal ash. Coal ash is a blanket term for four residuals: fly ash – fine powdery particles that float up the smokestack and are captured by pollution control devices; bottom ash – heavier materials that descend to the bottom of the furnace; flue gas desulfurization – wet sludge or dry powder formed by chemically combining sulfur gases with a sorbent; boiler sag – crystallized pellets that result when molten slag and water in the furnace come in contact. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), coal ash typically contains heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, selenium, other assorted heavy metals and trace amounts of radionuclides such as uranium. The majority of heavy metals that are present in coal ash are among the most toxic heavy metals listed by the U.S. Department of Health’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Arsenic in particular has been proven to cause cancer. Despite the known danger posed by coal ash waste, little to no government policy exists to regulate the disposal of coal ash. Due to the toxic nature of coal ash waste it continues to be a focus for multiple organizations to research the amount of coal ash being produced and the effect it is having on our air and water. Clean Water Action and Rainforest Action Network have recently published individual research reports on the information they gathered from coal ash research.
RECENT RESEARCH ON THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF COAL ASH
The very first survey of coal ash pollution in Colorado – Coal Ash: Colorado’s Toxic Trash Exposed – was published by Clean Water Action on June 26th 2013. “Clean Water Action’s research found that coal ash disposal is a serious threat to Colorado’s water resources,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action. “Right here in Colorado, about 1.7 million tons of coal ash pollution is produced every year and safeguards are not in place to protect the environment or the public’s health.” Continue reading Clean Coal Is A Dirty Lie→
Natural gas produced from shale formations, commonly referred to as “shale gas”, has become increasingly important in the energy supply market for the U.S. and worldwide. Obtaining natural gas from shale reserves was not considered economically feasible until recently because of low permeability of the shale rock formations. New developments in hydraulic fracturing technology have led to a boom in domestic shale gas production since massive scale utilization in 2003. The United States has experienced economic benefits via revenue and job creation in predominantly rural areas while simultaneously increasing the energy security of the U.S. by decreasing dependence on foreign oil supplies. However, the resounding question remains: at what cost? In order to realize the implications of this question we first need to understand some basics about the hydraulic fracturing process and the uncertainties that continue to surround the shale gas industry. In this report I will primarily focus on the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and well development, but it is important to realize that direct impacts on the environment can and will extend to affect human health.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a stimulation process used to extract natural gas, and in some cases oil, from deep shale reserves 5,000-8,000 feet below the ground surface. This process allows energy companies to access previously unavailable energy sources in states that have deep oil and gas reserves. The fracking process involves pumping a mixture of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into a well, which fractures the surrounding rock formation and props open passages that allow natural gas to freely flow from rock fractures to the production well. Once the well is developed, the carrying fluid can then flow back to the ground surface along with the gas.