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Release Date: 04/25/2000
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EPA today announced that the Agency plans to develop national standards to address wastes from coal burning plants that are presently either land disposed or used as fill in mining. These wastes are not being classified as hazardous waste. EPA acted after a federal court declined to grant an extension request so that the Agency could utilize upcoming major scientific analysis in making a more complete determination. EPA will continue to evaluate the new information it receives as it moves forward. Combustion waste is currently exempted from federal regulation. But these wastes contain toxic metals that, when improperly disposed, may pose a threat to public health and the environment. EPA’s goal is to ensure that these wastes don’t contaminate groundwater, a source of drinking water for more than half the U.S. population, or contaminate rivers, lakes and streams.
EPA Acting Deputy Administrator Michael McCabe said, “After careful review of the present disposal of these wastes, we believe these additional measures are needed to ensure that public health and the environment are fully protected. If the states and industry do not take steps to address these wastes adequately in a reasonable amount of time or if EPA identifies additional risks to public health, EPA will revisit this decision to determine whether a hazardous waste approach is needed.”

EPA believes that states and industry should adopt a safer approach to the disposal of coal combustion wastes that are disposed of in landfills, surface impoundments and when used in fill in mining. At this time, EPA does not believe that regulation of the materials as hazardous waste is justified. However, the Agency will continue to study the safe disposal of coal combustion wastes and analyze the upcoming National Academy of Sciences Report on the health effects of mercury wastes as it relates to this issue.

The regulation announced today will set standards under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) authority for non-hazardous wastes. Today’s decision also identifies safe reuse of these materials such as construction that do not warrant regulatory action by EPA.

Facilities like utilities that burn fossil fuels generate many wastes, including fly ash and bottom ash. Facilities often will mix these wastes prior to disposal. EPA is concerned because these combined wastes contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury. These metals have been associated with human health effects including cancer and nervous system effects, adverse effects on women of child-bearing age and developmental effects in children. Furthermore, these metals have also been found to have harmful environmental effects.

Congress excluded large-volume wastes generated primarily from the combustion of coal or other fossil fuels from being regulated as a RCRA hazardous waste pending the completion of a Report to Congress and a determination by EPA on whether to regulate. Today’s action also applies to high volume coal combustion waste generated at electric utilities and independent power producing facilities and managed separately, which were addressed in a 1993 regulatory determination.

A copy of the Regulatory Determination will be published shortly in the Federal Register. A copy of the Regulatory Determination and some of the background materials will soon be available on the Internet at:

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