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Coal Combustion Residuals

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Coal combustion residuals (CCRs), commonly referred to as coal ash, are the materials that remain after burning coal for electricity. CCRs include:

CCRs typically contain a broad range of metals, including arsenic, selenium, and cadmium; however, the leach levels, using EPA's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) (PDF) (35 pp, 287 KB), rarely reach the Resource and Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste characteristic levels.

CCRs are one of the largest waste streams generated in the United States. According to the American Coal Ash Association's Coal Combustion Product (CCP) Production & Use Survey Report (PDF) (1 pg, 88 KB) more than 136 million tons of CCRs were generated in 2008.

Following the massive coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston facility in December 2008, EPA took aggressive steps to assess impoundments and other units that manage residuals from coal combustion and that contain free liquids. TVA's Kingston spill of coal combustion residuals (CCRs) flooded more than 300 acres of land, damaging homes and property. The released materials flowed into the Emory and Clinch rivers, filling large areas of the rivers and resulting in fish kills.

This catastrophic spill prompted EPA to gather more information from facilities managing coal combustion residuals nationwide. EPA is conducting a multi-step assessment of surface impoundments or similar units that contain CCRs to learn if there are any other impoundments that could also pose an imminent risk of failure. Steps taken include:

Beginning on March 9, 2009, EPA mailed Information Request letters to electric utilities and corporations that have surface impoundments or similar units that contain CCRs. These information requests were sent to 219 facilities and through them, EPA received information on 584 impoundments. These letters requested information to assist EPA in evaluating the structural integrity of these management units. EPA, working closely with other federal agencies and the states, reviewed the information provided by the facilities to identify impoundments or similar units that need priority attention.

The Agency, using contractors who are experts in dam integrity, conducted site assessments at many impoundments and is requiring appropriate remedial action at any facility that is found to have a unit posing a risk for potential failure. Moreover, EPA is requesting that facilities implement those recommendations made through our site assessment reports. Through our efforts, the Agency was informed of nine additional facilities with surface impoundments. EPA mailed Information Requests to these facilities on December 29, 2009. As the nationwide assessment progresses, the Agency will continue to issue updated information.

Additional Information
Documents Related to Assessment Efforts
Proposed Regulation

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