Coal Ash

As a HEAL supporter, you may know about the toxins associated with burning coal. Coal-fired electricity is our single biggest polluter, whether we’re talking about the carbon that’s warming our planet or the many particulates and chemicals that obscure our scenic vistas and endanger our health.

The Issue

What you may not know about is another menace produced by burning coal for power: the nasty dust left over. Known as “coal ash,” it’s a mixture of the ash that falls to the bottom of the furnace (bottom ash) and that captured by pollution controls (fly ash). And it’s big issue here in Utah, as we’ll describe below.

Coal ash is pretty darn toxic – and there is, to use a technical term, A LOT of it produced in the U.S. each year. (A LOT, in this case, equals 71.1 million tons.)

That ash is either dumped dry into landfills, where it poses an airborne menace as it drifts, or is stored wet in massive slurry ponds, where it can collapse dams or leak through pipelines and destroy entire communities, as happened in Tennessee in 2008 or North Carolina in 2014. The toxic metals found in coal ash have been linked to cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, birth defects, reproductive failure, asthma, and other illnesses.

In 2015 the Obama Administration unveiled the first ever regulations governing coal ash disposal. The regulations mandate more stringent monitoring, containment, and treatment requirements for power plants.

Coal Ash In Utah


Is coal ash an issue in Utah? Yup, and HEAL, for the past couple years, has been working on multiple fronts to try and minimize its impact on the states environment and landscapes.

  • In March of 2016, HEAL and our allies filed a lawsuit in District Court alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. (See our press release announcing the suit.) The action, filed jointly by the HEAL Utah, Sierra Club and Public Justice, highlights widespread contamination of area land and waters via a troubling practice occurring on what PacifiCorp calls a “research farm.” Several years ago, after the company discovered toxins in area ground water due to coal ash contamination, PacificCorp literally spread the problem around via spraying waste-tainted water and leachate onto a field of alfalfa that is dubbed a “research farm.”
  • The suit argues that the company must end that practice – and also clean up additional violations of the Clean Water Act because the company, as part of its coal ash “cleanup” scheme, illegally eliminated several small local streams without receiving permission from the appropriate federal agency. Not surprisingly, PacifiCorp responded by filing a motion to dismiss our action on jurisdictional grounds (they’re arguing that since they have all relevant state permits that we can’t allege federal rule violations). A federal judge is scheduled to hear oral arguments on that motion here in Salt Lake City in September of 2016.
  •  If the suit moves forward, PacifiCorp faces potentially millions of dollars in liabilities due to its haphazard handling of toxic wastes. An example consequence would be that PacifiCorp must construct a wastewater treatment plant.


LINK COAL ASH TOXINs (Vice News Video)
LINK Coal Ash Contamination in the US (Map)


Recent Posts about Coal Ash…

NEWS: Environmentalists: Coal ash landfill near Price must be moved

Salt Lake Tribune
By: Emma Penrod
Published January 23, 2017


Three environmental groups have joined forces to call for Rocky Mountain Power to relocate a landfill which released more than 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash into the Price River last summer.

The Sierra Club, HEAL Utah, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment believe the landfill must be moved farther from the river to prevent future spills and protect communities downstream.

"Coal ash has some troubling components to it," said Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah, "and we think piling it in a box canyon right next to a river doesn't adequately protect the health of nearby communities."

Rocky Mountain Power has agreed to pay the state just over $15,000 in penalties for the Aug. 4 spill, which washed an estimated 13.9 pounds of arsenic and 53.9 pounds of lead into the Price River in Panther Canyon during a flash flood.

... To read the full article, click here...



NEWS: Rocky Mountain Power says plant’s ‘research farm’ is perfectly safe

The Salt Lake Tribune
Dec 24 2016  

Just below the Huntington Power Plant, a coal-fired generating station at the mouth of the eponymous central Utah canyon, agricultural plots spread out along the right bank of Huntington Creek. For the past four decades, these bucolic 250 acres have been an integral part of plant operations, receiving wastewater to grow alfalfa, wheat and barley as part of scientific research aimed at developing low-cost ways of disposing of wastewater, according to published studies.

Scientists and regulators have concluded the practice recycles water without endangering the environment. The forage produced is safe, although one study found that the cattle eating it have "soft teeth and bone weaknesses," according to Esmaiel Malek, a former Utah State University professor who oversaw research at the plant's farm in the 2000s.


Read the whole article here.


Episode #53: HEAL's Victories! Clean Air, Coal & Coal Ash

Matt flies solo and dives deep on three recent HEAL Utah victories, offering some context and detail to explain the significance of each. First, he talks about Navitus, a proposed waste-to-energy facility that Sandy City officials are now backing away from. Second, he describes the collapse of the Oakland coal terminal proposal. (Those two victories described more here.) Lastly, he explains the importance of a recent federal court ruling that will allow HEAL's lawsuit against Rocky Mountain Power for its coal ash handling practices at its Huntington plant to move forward. Hey, folks, if you like what you're hearing and you listen to the podcast via iTunes, please take a moment and "rate" and "comment" on the podcast here. That'll help more people discover us!


One Comment:

  1. I want to know if the power plant in slc on north temple had similar issues? Two generations we’re raised on Euclid ave between 1000 & 1100 west. They have Alzheimer’s cancer first generation. Us born from 1950 early 1960 are dying from cancer. We walked yhe fields played around train tracks and rode our bikes in that area of power plant and gas company.

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