Sunday, September 21, 2014

investigate toxic ash


SAPPI investigative report

Report by Willie Beetge

 

Sappi investigated for damaging the environment, with Toxic coal ash, #sappi #coal ash #tennesse #groundwater #south coast kwa Zulu natal #afriforum 

The following statement, from Southern environmental center, carries some weight and warns the lawmakers of disaster. They show that the real issue with the implementation of law is not the toxicity of the ash but rather political and industrial pressure. The same situation is currently playing out at SAPPI on the South Coast of Kwa Zulu Natal, where block makers and politicians are approving the use of Toxic Ash. Environmentalists however condemn the distribution of the ash voicing their fears that the heavy metals contained in the ash will contaminate ground water and rivers. Heavy metals like Arsenic, mercury, cobalt and many others. During negotiations with SAPPI environmentalists send many emails to explain their concerns and AfriForum Amanzimtoti was called in. In the e mails and later in newspaper reports, the ash was called “Toxic ash”. Sappi general manager Mr. Peter Morris objected strongly to the use of “TOXIC”. He stated in his e mail “referring to the material that has been provided to the block makers as Toxic ash, Sappi strongly objects that these inflammatory statements are not only incorrect, but unscrupulously misleading.”  In the statement from the Southern environmental center they warn against the danger to water and community’s contamination, they further said “particularly disadvantage communities”.

The current situation at the Sappi plant distribute the toxic ash into especially disadvantage communities has triggered this investigation.  The real question will be is the Toxic Ash beneficial to the community and what will it cost them and the environment?

 On the one side of this story is the social responsibility to provide the block makers with the opportunity and ability to provide work in these communities. The other side tells a story of environmental destruction and the poisoning of the same employers and water.  

The EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) sits with the same problem and has delayed an enforceable act for years. They are under pressure from the politicians and industries using coal and coal ash to not declare coal ash as a hazardous waste product. “Despite the dangers revealed by the catastrophic ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston plant in 2008, political and industry pressure has delayed the adoption of the tough federal regulations needed to ensure safe disposal of coal ash” says the Southern environmental law center. The argument is that it will increase the price of electricity and it will restrict the industries that use coal ash to produce products and recycling. Such a restriction might put more pressure on the economy and cause an increase in unemployment.

On the other side

SELC and its allies are urging EPA to implement a strong, enforceable rule that protects groundwater, surface water, and communities near waste sites—particularly disadvantaged communities, which are often the most vulnerable to coal ash pollution. In the absence of strong federal safeguards, we must rely on an inconsistent patchwork of rules in our states, some of which have tougher standards for handling household garbage than they do for the disposal of coal ash.

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more lagoons on its banks holding slurries of coal ash from power plants. Containing hundreds of thousands of tons of toxin-laden waste, these pools are often unlined and have leaked arsenic, mercury, thallium, selenium, and other contaminants into the rivers and the underlying groundwater for years, if not decades.  A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that unlined coal combustion waste ponds pose a cancer risk 900 times above acceptable levels. (Southern environmental law center)

Coal ash contains toxic chemicals including arsenic, mercury and lead. State regulators have previously conceded that all of Duke Energy's unlined ash dumps in the state are contaminating groundwater. EPA is proposing to regulate for the first time coal ash to address the risks from the disposal of the wastes generated by electric utilities and independent power producers. This after the Tennesse disaster.

 EPA  is considering two possible options for the management of coal ash for public comment. Both options fall under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Under the first proposal, EPA would list these residuals as special wastes subject to regulation under subtitle C of RCRA, when destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments. Under the second proposal, EPA would regulate coal ash under subtitle D of RCRA, the section for non-hazardous wastes. The Agency considers each proposal to have its advantages and disadvantages, and includes benefits which should be considered in the public comment period.

The root of the coal ash dilemma, after all, is not an environmental issue. It’s an economic issue First; the best time to enact meaningful environmental legislation is immediately following a disaster. According to Professor Dave Gammon - dgammon@elon.edu.

Are we waiting for a disaster before we act? 


Two problems came to my attention in the manufacturing of ash blocks. The first being the health risk of Ash on workers and the environment.

The second possible problem is the control of cement ash mixtures in the manufacturing process. I have found a few blocks that weep black water. This is possibly caused by a weak cement mixture, which does not bind the ash properly. The distribution of substandard blocks held a serious health risk for the end user. This risk increase in disadvantage areas, the moisture that ash blocks  is now also contaminated with some toxic heavy metals. In my experience ash blocks act in the same manner as a sponge, the walls is always wet especially if the foundations was not sealed properly. In disadvantage areas the builders are not taking proper measures to seal foundations as it increase the building cost.

 In conclusion political and financial pressure has prevented the EPA of enforcing strict controls on coal ash. This means that the environment and the protection thereof have a price. The lack of implementation of strict rules is purely based on the amount of money generated by industries. The question we need to ask is what the price for our heritage is?

Will SAPPI now follow the corrupt world of intimidating industries or will they protect the environment from the Toxic ash. Will they regulate the block makers to keep this toxic ash properly, and the process of block manufacturing to ensure the health of block yard workers and the public? It is true that ash block making is an acceptable practice in the world, but who will enforce that the correct cement ash mixtures are used to prevent ash seepage.  

Social responsibility does not stop with the supply of a product; it has a responsibility to the health of the community and the environment using such products. SAPPI will need to set proper standards and enforce these standards to protect the community; they need to ensure that workers recycling the ash are medically protected. The responsibility is not to comply with the standards only, it is to comply responsible with the health requirements of the block industry, and to comply with the needs of the environment.

The only option that I can see is that SAPPI build an area lined to keep the coal ash, surrounded by block makers manufacturing blocks on the controlled lined area, ensure that they are South African workers from the area. Provide regular medical tests on the workers and control the cement ash mixture. Run random wet tests on blocks ensuring that no seepage takes place and improve the standards. This will not only assist the micro economy but train and develop block yard in the surrounding areas. Such a partnership between SAPPI and the block makers will lead the industrial involvement of large companies in South Africa. The project will be costly but beneficial to both the company and the block makers. The lined storage facility must be constructed any way by SAPPI to protect ground water and prevent seepage into the rivers and streams. There is currently no evidence of lined storage facilities even at the fly ash contaminated gypsum storage.

The other option is for SAPPI to stop supplying Toxic ash to block makers, but still build a proper lined facility to keep the toxic waste, before transporting it to NPC (hope their facilities are up to standard)

 

Willie Beetge