Coal ash is a hazardous substance, containing dangerous chemicals like arsenic, lead, and mercury. Despite this, there are no federal laws regulating disposal of coal ash, and the state laws, when they exist at all, tend to be weak. When coal ash is disposed of improperly, these chemicals can leach into the ground and find their way into drinking water supplies. Even more dramatic, the failure of a retaining wall at coal ash storage facilities can result in an enormous environmental disaster; this happened last December when a retaining wall broke in Kingston, Tennessee, spilling toxic coal ash over 3,000 acres. The most important step toward dealing with coal ash in a safe manner would probably be for the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish strict national standards ensuring that coal ash is disposed of in the safest manner possible, with minimal risk to human health. Of course, burning less coal in the first place would be a great idea, too – then there will be less toxic ash for us to deal with!
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