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Tr-Ash Talk: Danger in the Schoolyard

Recent sampling of paths constructed of coal ash near J.L. Wilkinson Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida reveal high levels of vanadium, a hazardous substance linked to cardiovascular disease and nervous system damage. Vanadium levels were up to seven times higher than levels deemed safe for residential soil by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Earthjustice sampled two paths near the school after concerns were raised that EZBase, a product made from toxic fly ash and bottom ash residuals at coal-burning power plants and marketed by Jacksonville Electric Authority, may have been used to construct paths near the elementary school.

Exposure to high levels of vanadium in the air can cause lung and cardiovascular damage. In addition, nausea, mild diarrhea and stomach cramps have been reported in people ingesting vanadium. Vanadium is classified as “possibly carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Children are particularly susceptible to impacts from toxic exposure due to low body mass and developing systems.

Local Middleburg parent, Dayna Yamin, is concerned about children’s safety and is asking the school’s principal and Clay County School District to demand further testing, saying:

Schools should be a safe place for children. It is alarming that any child might have to walk past something every day that could cause cancer.

The paths near J.L. Wilkinson Elementary School that were constructed of coal ash.
(Photo courtesy of Karlanna Lewis / Yale University)

This is far from a local issue. EZBase is loaded with varying amounts of other toxic metals, in addition to vanadium, but the material has not undergone testing to determine its safety. Despite the dangers, including documented water contamination from its application near a wetland, large amounts of EZBase have been marketed and sold throughout Florida. In 2012, JEA self-reported that approximately 232,000 tons had been distributed for use in Florida. JEA is also distributing the waste product in Georgia. Applications include base for roads, fill and use in recreational settings like parks and Girl Scout camps. On March 29, 2013, Earthjustice, Clean Water Action, and Southern Environmental Law notified EPA of the potential threat from application of EZBase in Florida and called for immediate testing of the material.

Yet the Florida Legislature appears determined to turn a blind eye and let the dump trucks roll. Last week, the legislature passed a bill, SB 682, that identifies numerous ways to reuse coal ash for the purpose of removing legal constraints and DEP oversight. The bill will make it easier for companies to sell coal ash for reuse in a number of ways without adequate scientific testing to see if these uses are safe for public health, water quality, or our environment. The bill has been sent to Gov. Scott for final consideration.

Clean Water Action and Earthjustice are calling on Gov. Scott to veto SB 682 immediately. He should send the bill back to the legislature and demand that DEP have supervision over all coal ash reuse projects. We need oversight from state environmental experts to ensure that coal ash is managed safely and properly.

Kathy Aterno, Clean Water Action’s Florida director, said:

State lawmakers are buckling to the utility industry and not protecting the health of our children by refusing any oversight by the Department of Environmental Protection for the use of coal ash products.

Florida readers, please contact Gov. Scott today and let your voice be heard.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.