Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2011NC159B

The impact of Coal Combustion Products on the quality of water resources in North Carolina

Institute: North Carolina
Year Established: 2011 Start Date: 2011-03-01 End Date: 2012-02-29
Total Federal Funds: $31,407 Total Non-Federal Funds: $43,090

Principal Investigators: Avner Vengosh, Heileen Hsu-Kim

Abstract: Coal combustion products (CCPs) are known to contain toxic elements such as arsenic, selenium, and mercury. While a subset of CCPs is recycled for beneficial purposes, the majority of the waste is stored in more than 350 landfills and storage ponds across the nation. CCPs are not classified as hazardous waste, and as a result, these landfills and storage ponds are typically unlined and susceptible to leaks and failures. Moreover, discharge of effluents from storage ponds may pose an ecological hazard if they contain toxic elements leached from CCPs. Despite the risks, the hazards stemming from ongoing CCPs waste disposal practices have not been fully evaluated. In a recent nationwide survey of 431 holding ponds, 49 have been assigned a “high hazard potential” rating by the EPA, and approximately one-quarter of these are located in North Carolina. The objectives of this project are (1) determine the magnitude of CCPs contamination of associated water resources in NC; (2) evaluate the fate (e.g., retardation) of key contaminants (arsenic, selenium, boron, strontium, barium, methylmercury) in water resources and the environmental factors that control these variations; (3) establish reliable monitoring tools for evaluating the impact of CCPs on NC water resources that can be used for state regulations; and (4) provide the scientific base for possible future state regulation on CCPs storage in NC. The project will include systematic sampling of effluents and affected surface water, pore water in lake sediments and groundwater in the vicinity of CCP storage ponds in NC, measurements of major elements, trace-metals and boron isotopes composition for tracing leachates generated from CCPs, and modeling of species distribution in the investigated water. An outcome of this research will be a scientific evaluation of the environmental impacts of CCPs on the water resources in NC and establishing reliable monitoring tools for state regulation of the fate of contaminants that are generated from CCPs in NC. This information will also be needed for future regulatory actions expected from the EPA on CCPs disposal practices.