New research reveals toxic hazards for some coal waste disposals at W.Va.

Two of the pollution legacies of coal are acid mine drainage, the waste from coal mining, and fly ash, the waste from burning coal. For years, some energy companies have put waste in wet or dry storage ponds.

Research has proven that the combination of fly ash and acid mine drainage can neutralize the acid. But a new study called, “Water Quality Implications of Neutralizing Acid Mine Drainage with Coal Fly Ash from India and the United States” found that the combination box be toxic and include things like arsenic, lead and more.

A few years ago companies started using it in abandoned coal mines to neutralize some of the acidic drainage.

In fact, the placement of fly ash at former mine sites is done in West Virginia. The study revealed that the combination can cause contamination that is harmful to human health.

“We realized that the properties of coal ash allowed it to neutralize very acidic fluids like acid mine drainage,” Avner Vengoshprofessor of environmental quality at duke university said.

The article was published in Fuelan open-access, peer-reviewed research journal on fuels science.

Vengosh is one of the authors.

“Some fly ash has a very effective ability to neutralize acid mine drainage,” Vangosh said. “For instance, [fly ash] in India, due to the chemistry of the original coal, they have less ability to neutralize acid mine drainage. But going back to the United States, we’ve found that Appalachian fly ash, the fly ash that we use so commonly in West Virginia, has pretty good neutralizing capability. However, due to the chemistry of fly ash and because it contains high concentrations of contaminants like arsenic, selenium, molybdenum, certain elements that we know could harm human health and the environment.

“When we [observed] the interaction of acid mine drainage with fly ash, we have actually seen a negative impact on treated effluent. So it’s like, choose your poison. On the one hand, we reduce the acidity of the acid mine drainage and it does not become acidic anymore, and therefore it is very beneficial. However, on the other hand, we generate what we call secondary contamination. Thus, fly ash would contribute to contaminating these effluents.

Even though contaminants like arsenic occur naturally in the environment, they are still dangerous to human health.

“Even a small amount of arsenic could be devastating to your health. So the fact that it is naturally occurring has nothing to do with its toxicity and impact on human health,” Vengosh said. This is really important. The water quality in West Virginia is one of the best I have ever measured in my life. Thanks to the spring and the water, the surface water is really clean However, once you start having mining, surface mining, and/or acid mine drainage, that high water quality deteriorates very quickly.

“Water is becoming a major issue and one of the consequences of climate change. And the global warming we are witnessing is that water in some regions is becoming scarce. And we are talking about water, the quantity of water, but the quality in many parts of the world is also deteriorating due to climate change. So preserving clean water is really essential for our next generation to come.”

Vengosh said he’s not an activist, but he hopes to see new policies that protect public health based on this research.

“I think it’s the realization that whatever your political beliefs, whatever your background, you need to understand the fact that coal ash is, and coal mining in general, presents challenges for our environment and for human health.

“Hopefully there will be some sort of political consequences that people will say, ‘stop hurting, stop polluting our water’, and that we don’t put ourselves in harm’s way.”

Vangosh also wants to transpose this research into the “real world” and question the benefits of such elimination.

“I would expect the authorities in West Virginia [WVDEP] would jump in there and test all the water coming from these abandoned coal mines,” Vengosh said, “and to determine what the real risks are on the ground to the people who live there.