The “beneficial reuse” of coal ash, often touted as a way to keep the material out of landfills, is potentially causing serious contamination of drinking water in southeast Wisconsin and possibly across the state, according to a report released Tuesday by Clean Wisconsin.
By classifying coal ash as an “industrial byproduct,” as report author Tyson Cook says, companies are able to place contaminant-laden coal ash in the ground — as structural fill in and below roads, trails, parking lots, buildings, and bridges — with no lining or monitoring.
About 85 percent of Wisconsin’s coal ash is reused, compared to about 50 percent nationwide. Congress has even called Wisconsin the “gold standard” on this front.
Clean Wisconsin’s study of test results from almost 1,000 wells found that there is evidence such coal ash is contaminating groundwater that provides drinking water for thousands of residents.
At a Racine area elementary school, Clean Wisconsin’s own testing found molybdenum levels at more than twice the state’s enforcement standard.
Clean Wisconsin’s analysis of state test results also found that molybdenum contamination is significantly higher in close proximity to coal ash structural fill sites — ash layered below roads, buildings and the like to create level ground and fill spaces. Higher molybdenum levels also corresponded to the flow of groundwater in relation to known coal ash reuse sites, the study found.