EPA Weighs Fly Ash Concrete Stigma Vs. Broader Coal Ash Hazardous Waste Label

In its proposed regulation of power plants’ coal combustion residuals (CCR) under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA), EPA acknowledges potential backlash a hazardous waste designation might have on beneficial uses of concrete. The agency’s Federal Register posting (above item) cites a letter from December 2009—then a working deadline for proposed rule publication–wherein ASTM Committee C09 officers “indicated that ASTM would remove fly ash from project specifications in its concrete standard if EPA determined CCRs were a hazardous waste when disposed.” It is unclear if the Society, known for its consensus process, would adopt that position, EPA staff counters, especially as other (non-C) committees provide specifications for reuse of solvents that are classified hazardous wastes.

Citing a New York Times report, EPA noted a U.S. Green Building Council representative’s affirmation that LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) incentives would remain for fly ash in concrete even under a broader CCR hazardous waste classification. If USGBC and EPA continue to recognize fly ash as an environmentally beneficial portland cement substitute, the proposed rule states, “The use of this material is unlikely to decrease solely because of ‘stigma’ concerns. We believe it is unlikely ASTM will prohibit the use of fly ash in concrete under its standards solely because of a determination that fly ash is regulated under subtitle C of RCRA when it is discarded, especially given that [such usage] is accepted [worldwide] as a practice that improves the performance of concrete. It is one of the most cost-effective near-term strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and there is no evidence of meaningful risk, nor any reason to thing there might be, involved with its use in cement or concrete.”

One alternative EPA offers in response to concerns of ASTM Committee C and others commenting (pre-Federal Register notice) on the proposed rule entails codifying a new “list of Special Wastes Subject to Subtitle C” in RCRA, which would distinguish construction-grade CCR from industrial hazardous wastes. This could significantly reduce the likelihood CCR-bearing product would automatically be perceived as universally “hazardous,” the agency contends.

The proposed rule is certain to draw comments from representatives across cement and concrete. EPA is accepting through September 20 comments, noting “Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–RCRA–2009–0640,” at http://www.regulations.gov or directed to [email protected]; or, mailed to Hazardous Waste Management System; Identification and Listing of Special Wastes; Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals From Electric Utilities Docket, Attention Docket ID No., EPA–HQ–RCRA–2009–0640, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 5305T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20460.

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