Georgia weighs coal ash rules

Georgia environmental officials are considering rules to keep toxic coal ash from polluting the water we drink and the air we breathe.

Major coal ash spills in North Carolina and Tennessee prompted the federal government to regulate the ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. Now it’s Georgia’s turn.

State regulators, utility executives, environmentalists and concerned citizens can weigh in on the proposed rules Thursday at a public hearing in Atlanta. Board members with the state Department of Natural Resources will ultimately decide whether Georgia's proposed rules will be more stringent than the federal regulations.

Utilities typically store coal ash in waste ponds or landfills, or they recycle it for concrete, wallboard or roads. Nearly 110 million tons of coal ash was generated in 2012, according to the American Coal Ash Association.

Georgia Power generated 2.4 million tons last year. Its coal ash lagoons cover 2,300 acres, or the equivalent of nearly 1,800 football fields, according to an AJC analysis.

The ash contains some nasty stuff, such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic. The toxic metals can leach into ground and surface water and, as dust, rise into the air and lungs. Beryllium and other heavy metals were found at the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill below Jesup in 2011, the AJC discovered, yet not properly disposed until more than two years later.