EPA rules will be released by Friday, aim to protect water supply

Related Story

COLUMBIA - By the end of the week, the EPA must decide how to handle storage and disposal of coal ash, such as that produced by two Columbia power plants. The substance contains heavy metals, which environmentalists say are unhealthy to humans.

"It is full of really toxic pollutants like mercury, lead, arsenic. It's definitely something you don't want to have getting into your water in particular," said Mary Anne Hitt, Representative from the Sierra Club.

The decision is expected to change how power plants dispose of coal ash that remains when the plant uses coal to produce electricity.

Currently, many sites have giant pits located near rivers and lakes to store coal ash, called coal ponds. These ponds are often poorly maintained and can harm drinking water supply.

Columbia is home to one of more than 1,000 coal ash ponds nationwide. Columbia's coal ash pond is called More's Lake.

An EPA report in 2012 said More's Lake has a "high" hazard potential. The report said heavy rains could cause the coal ash pond to overflow, which would be an issue for urban and commercial developments downstream from the pond.

Connie Kacprowicz, utility services specialist with Columbia Water and Light, said the city commissioned its own report to determine whether the pond is safe.

"We got the preliminary geo-technical report back and it looks like the structure is sound," Kacprowicz said. "We don't have the final report in our hands, but the outside firm is telling us they don't think the pond is in danger of overflowing."

Kacprowicz said Water and Light is considering several different options, depending on what the EPA's new regulations say.

"Some of the options on the table could be anything from reducing the amount of coal that we burn, so we end up with less ash, or possibly different uses for that coal ash. We have different vendors that get it from us to use on roads."

Cameron Etheridge, director of power systems and engineering for City Power Development Group, said implementing measures to change how coal ash is handled will cost power companies, and therefore raise prices for the consumer.

Kacprowicz said she won't be able to tell how much money the change would cost the consumer until the regulations are officially released.