Sampling of paths near J.L. Wilkinson Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida recently revealed high levels of vanadium, a hazardous substance linked to cardiovascular disease and nervous system damage. Vanadium levels in the samples were up to seven times higher than levels deemed safe for residential soil by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm with offices in Tallahassee, 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 (JEA), may have been applied as fill for local paths and roads.
“Children must be protected from contact with this hazardous substance, and more testing should be conducted immediately around the school to ensure the area is safe for the students,” stated Lisa Evans, attorney for Earthjustice. 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 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. “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,” she said.
Last week, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that identifies numerous ways to reuse coal ash for the purpose of removing legal constraints and DEP oversight on such uses. 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 now been sent to Governor Scott for final consideration.
Clean Water Action and Earthjustice are calling on Governor 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 our state’s environmental experts to ensure that coal ash is managed safely and properly.
“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,” said Kathy Aterno, Clean Water Action’s Florida Director.
Over the last decade, large amounts of coal ash road fill, like EZBase, have been marketed and sold throughout the state. In 2012, JEA self-reported that approximately 232,000 tons of coal ash fill product had been distributed for use in Florida throughout the year. On March 29, 2013, Clean Water Action, Earthjustice and Southern Environmental Law Center notified EPA of the potential threat from application of EZBase in Florida and called for immediate testing of the material.