Washington, DC — The U.S. Green Building Council should stop conferring LEED credits for use of coal combustion wastes in construction, according to public comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Coal ash and other wastes from coal-fired plants are used in cement, concrete counters, wallboard, carpet backing and many other interior and exterior components.
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized certification system that measures energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. By these standards, PEER argues that LEED credits given to coal ash as a “recycled” material should be revoked because, among other reasons –
- Coal combustion wastes are unquestionably toxic and will become more so when a new generation of air pollution controls will scrub much more mercury out of smokestack emissions, trapping it in the combustion waste;
- Construction materials containing coal ash are often disposed of in ways that release their toxic contents into the environment, through incineration or dumping into unlined landfills; and
- Creating coal ash generates huge amounts of climate altering greenhouse gases.
“LEED now gives green credit for what is an ultimately brown act – putting coal ash into our homes, schools, and office buildings,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the coal ash market constitutes a multi-billion dollar subsidy to coal-fired power. “If coal power generators had to responsibly handle their wastes, coal would not be so much cheaper than solar and other renewable power sources.”
The LEED standards are now up for review through a public comment period which ends this week. Public comments are incorporated into a draft revision, which is then posted, and a second comment period is held beginning July 1, 2011. The final draft is then delivered to Green Building Council members for a vote. PEER is seeking to change both building and interior construction ratings.
“From wallboard in your child’s bedroom to your kitchen counter to your office carpet, American buildings are becoming a major repository for toxic waste,” added Ruch, pointing out that fly ash from municipal solid waste incinerators does not qualify as a recycled-content material for LEED credits. In addition, LEED for Health Care requires cement made from coal wastes to meet a strict mercury limit (5.5 parts per billion). “This LEED revision process presents an opportunity to reconsider the wisdom of embedding coal ash throughout our indoor environment.”
Coal ash and other combustion wastes constitute the second biggest waste stream in the nation, second only to the debris from coal mining itself. Today, neatly half (60 million of the 136 million tons) of the wastes generated are reused with little or no oversight or analysis of environmental impact, despite a growing body of scientific research indicating that toxic substances within these wastes (arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, thallium, dioxin, and other contaminants) will reach our waters, air and soil.