Franklin County will continue to use controversial “bottom ash” from the Ameren coal-fire power plant during winter weather events.
An agreement with Ameren was renewed Tuesday by the Franklin County Commission for the highway department to obtain as much as 5,000 tons per year of the spent coal ash in return for the maintenance of a section of road near the facility.
The county first entered the agreement with Ameren in 2014 and has been using the bottom ash for the past five years for deicing.
The initial agreement was signed around the same time as a controversial coal ash landfill was being planned and constructed at the power plant site in Labadie.
The Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) fought the proposed coal ash landfill for several years.
The group has expressed concerns about groundwater contamination and has said the landfill should not be built in a flood plain.
They also expressed concerns over the bottom ash as being “broadcast” all over the county.
A member of the LEO group, Lloyd Klinedinst, told The Missourian they have concerns about the cinders being spread.
“We consider it to be just like secondhand smoke,” Klinedinst said. “If that ash is coming from the same ponds and waste management sites where Ameren showed arsenic almost four times the safe drinking water levels established by law, then we are just getting what I would call secondhand contamination from our road surfaces.”
At the time residents were troubled by the coal ash and cinders being tracked into their homes’, however, far more significant is coal ash, with all its carcinogenic and radioactive elements, being broadcast where they can enter the drinking water, poison the environment, and affect crops and livestock.
The Labadie Energy Center produces about 550,000 tons of coal ash per year, and about 60 percent of it is used for beneficial purposes, such as concrete and cement production.
In 2014, when the county began using the bottom ash cinders, the agreement labeled them as nonhazardous.
The county is required to pick up, load and haul all the cinders.
An account of all the cinders taken must be kept by the county and reported to Ameren each month.
County Highway Administrator Ron Williams says he has not received any complaints about the coal ash cinders since he took the job in the fall of 2014.
He added the county intends to use more salt for deicing operations than cinders.
“It usually depends on what type of winter weather event we are experiencing,” Williams explained. “The cinders are usually used more for traction.”
Williams added there has been no resistance to the highway department using the bottom ash and the materials are basically inert.
“They have to test all of that stuff,” he said. “Any toxins are caught by the scrubbers in the smokestacks. We’ve used it for years.”
According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bottom ash is a coarse, angular ash particle that is too large to be carried up into the smoke stacks so it forms in the bottom of the coal furnace.
Some power plants may dispose of it in surface impoundments or in landfills as is done in Labadie. Others may discharge it into a nearby waterway under the plant’s water discharge permit.
Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic.
Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water, and the air.
The need for federal action to help ensure protective coal ash disposal was highlighted by large spills near Kingston, Tenn., and Eden, N.C., which caused widespread environmental and economic damage to nearby waterways and properties.
In addition to the cinders, it also may be recycled into products like concrete or wallboard.
Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States. According to the American Coal Ash Association’s Coal Combustion Product Production & Use Survey Report, nearly 130 million tons of coal ash were generated in 2014.