Florida Times-Union, July 31, 2007
JEA REVIEWS SELLING ASH FOR USE IN ROAD PROJECTS
[Rachel's introduction: People living near the road projects have complained about the coal ash, sold under the name EZBase. They say it drifts into yards, covers cars and irritates some people's breathing. "I can't believe there's not harmful things in that," said Bob Cowell. "I just feel that we were being experimented with.... Who knows how much hazardous material was in that stuff?" It's a fair question.]
By Steve Patterson, The Times-Union
Complaints from neighbors are making Florida's environmental agency rethink a JEA campaign to sell power-plant ash as road-building material.
The gritty gray ash has been used to cover dirt roads in Baker County and Charlton County, Ga., and poured into lower layers of asphalt street projects in Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties.
But people living near the road projects have complained about the ash, sold under the name EZBase. They say it drifts into yards, covers cars and irritates some people's breathing.
"I can't believe there's not harmful things in that," said Bob Cowell, whose neighborhood streets off Scott Mill Road in Mandarin were torn up for sewer work and are being rebuilt with EZBase.
"I just feel that we were being experimented with.... Who knows how much hazardous material was in that stuff?"
JEA says some road contractors probably used the material incorrectly but insists it is safe. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved using EZBase in roadwork two years ago.
"There is really nothing negative about EZBase other than the term 'ash,' " said Scott W. Schultz, the utility's director of byproduct services. JEA officials say selling ash for roadwork has cut the Jacksonville-owned utility's costs by about $8 million.
But there are negative reviews from neighbors.
A mile away from Cowell's home, Bobbie Zontini said her husband has spent a month vacuuming the bottom of their screened-in pool each day to get the grit that blocks the pool filter.
"I kept seeing all this fine silt-like stuff everywhere," said Zontini, who said her asthma got worse when roadwork started. The same stuff has to be swept up from the patio, she said.
Since May, DEP has received EZBase dust complaints from people in Mandarin, Lake Forest in Northwest Jacksonville and Glen St. Mary in Baker County.
The agency has asked JEA for more information about EZBase and how it's being used.
The stuff is made of ash from JEA's Northside Generating Station, which burns petroleum coke and coal mixed with limestone, a common road material.
EZBase becomes cement-like when wet but can dry out and turn brittle.
Now, DEP wants to see whether JEA and road contractors are following rules that were spelled out for those projects.
The agency is also reconsidering whether covering rural dirt roads with the material is a good idea.
"We do, of course, have the right to remove approval," DEP spokeswoman Jill Johnson said. "It's definitely something we're still investigating."
JEA representatives argue people really should think of EZBase a lot like they do limestone. Schultz said more than 90 percent of the material's weight is lime and gypsum. Gypsum from power plants is normally sold as material for drywall, but the Northside plant's low- emissions design results in gypsum that contains enough unburned fuel that it's undesirable.
Cowell, one of the people worried about the ash, notes EZBase comes with a safety sheet warning about exposure to crystalline silica, a material that can damage people's lungs over time.
That's probably not too big a danger, said Guerry H. McClellan, a University of Florida geology professor who has worked on power plant pollution control systems. He said Florida's ground is full of crystalline silica, such as quartz.
The ash also contains relatively high levels of a metal called vanadium. But a toxicologist hired by DEP concluded in 2005 it didn't pose a serious risk.
To see whether the ash produced now is any different, DEP recently asked JEA for results of chemical tests the utility is required to perform on ash every three months.
A few weeks ago, DEP employees found a hill of EZBase stored long-term in Baker County for county road projects. That wasn't allowed under rules set up in 2005, but JEA told the state agency the material will be removed soon.
JEA sells some ash to out-of-state oil refineries that take shipments by rail. But the utility sees road projects as an important way to reuse ash, which it calls byproduct, in hopes of improving public perceptions. It was used in construction on the Wonderwood Expressway and in subdivision roads and parking lots in Jacksonville and St. Johns County.
About 300,000 tons of EZBase have been sold in Florida, according to spokeswoman Gerri Boyce. That's at least 258,000 cubic yards, enough to pour a 12-inch layer over a quarter of a square mile.
Selling ash saves the expense and trouble of dumping it in a landfill, Schultz said, adding that it means mining companies won't have to dig for as much new limestone.
The utility charges contractors just $1 per ton but saved about $8 million on landfill fees, Boyce said.
Even dumping ash can be a problem.
Last year, when a company that was talking with JEA proposed dumping ash at a Ware County, Ga., landfill, neighbors there filled public meetings to keep the ash out.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy have both supported projects to recycle ash from power plants. The EPA has studied power plant ash for more than 20 years and doesn't consider it a hazardous waste, said David Goss, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, a trade group.
But it can still annoy people if it's not handled well.
"When you're putting ash down... almost any kind of ash, you have to be cognizant of what kind of conditions you have," Goss said.
Covering dirt roads with ash isn't common, said Debra Pflughoeft- Hassett, a researcher at the University of North Dakota's Energy & Environmental Research Center. She studied Florida's handling of ash for a federal report last year and spent time talking to JEA about EZBase.
"My suspicion is they have a good product that they can probably use with some tweaking," she said.
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