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Contractors cleaning up 25,000 cubic yards of coal ash and debris from the bluff collapse at the We Energies power plant in Oak Creek are dumping it into their landfill in Caledonia.
Brian Manthey, a spokesman for We Energies, said the company has used the landfill since 1988 as a holding area for coal and coal ash waiting to be recycled. The bluff collapse at the We Energies power plant last week exposed coal ash from the 1950s and 1960s.
However, some environmental groups have raised concerns about coal ash since it contains arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, which are "known to cause cancer and neurological damage in humans. They can also harm and kill wildlife, especially fish and other water-dwelling species." And if inhaled, some of the "forms of recycling may endanger human health from airborne particles, even where no water is involved," wrote Barbara Gottlieb, a Harvard professor in a report.
The Sierra Club has also filed a lawsuit against We Energies.
However, Manthey explained the landfill the coal ash is going into has a clay liner on the bottom. Above that is a drain tile system, which consists of a gravel and sand mixture, then there’s the coal ash. When water lands on the landfill, it goes through the leachate system and the water goes into a holding take, then it’s taken by truck to their wastewater treatment system.
“We are working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard in our clean-up efforts,” Manthey said “…We’re still not sure what the root cause and contributing factors were in the bluff collapse.”
Back in the 1950s, there was a ravine along the shoreline, which was filled in with coal ash and soil.
“It was a common practice in the 1950s,” Manthey said. “But I think the lines are being blurred that we’re not doing that now.”
Now that coal ash that slid down the ravine is being put into the landfill, Manthey said it’s not clear whether the coal ash will be recycled because it’s mixed with dirt and debris. The utility recycles 100 percent of the coal ash they produce, he said.
“Still, there may be quite a bit of energy still in the coal ash and sometimes the utility has re-burned the old coal ash,” Manthey said. “When they put it back in the ravine, it probably still had a lot of energy left.”