Novel approaches in determining baseline information on annual disposal rates and trace element content of U.S. coal combustion residues : a response to EPA’s June 2010 proposed disposal rule
Chwialkowski, Natalia Ewa
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Although products of coal combustion (PCCs) such as coal ash are currently exempted from classification as a hazardous waste in the United States under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now revising a proposed rule to modify disposal practices for these materials in order to prevent contamination of ground- and surface water sources by leached trace elements. This paper analyzes several aspects of EPA’s scientific reasoning for instating the rule, with the intent of answering the following questions: 1) Are EPA’s cited values for PCC production and disposal accurate estimates of annual totals?; 2) In what ways can EPA’s leaching risk modeling assessment be improved?; 3) What is the total quantity of trace elements contained within all PCCs disposed annually?; and 4) What would be the potential costs and feasibility of reclassifying PCCs not under RCRA, but under existing NRC regulations as low-level radioactive waste (LLRW)? Among the results of my calculations, I found that although EPA estimates for annual PCC disposal are 20% larger than industry statistics, these latter values appear to be closer to reality. Second, EPA appears to have significantly underestimated historical PCC disposal: my projections indicate that EPA’s maximum estimate for the quantity of fly ash landfilled within the past 90 years was likely met by production in the last 30 years alone, if not less. Finally, my analysis indicates that while PCCs may potentially meet the criteria for reclassification as low-level radioactive waste by NRC, the cost of such regulation would be many times that of the EPA June proposed disposal rule ($220-302 billion for PCCs disposed in 2008 alone, versus $1.47 billion per year for the Subtitle C option and $236-587 million for Subtitle D regulatory options).
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