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Fly Ash Concrete: What are the Health Risks?

10/8/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: fly ash, concrete, coal, health

Long praised by green builders as a stronger, more durable concrete that also recycles dangerous fly ash and reduces concrete production emissions, fly ash concrete has been used as an alternative to energy-intensive Portland cement in homes and buildings for more than a decade. I’ve always been leery about bringing a material made with fly ash—a byproduct of coal-burning power plants that contains mercury—inside our homes. Now experts are taking a closer look.

fly ash concrete sink 
Experts are taking a closer look at the health risks associated with fly ash concrete, which contains mercury from coal-burning power plants. Photo By Jeremy Levine Design/Courtesy Flickr. 

Burning coal releases toxic chemicals, including mercury. Last December the state of New York banned the Lafarge Ravena cement plant from using fly ash, a process it has used for more than 20 years, after soil and wildlife tests around the plant revealed mercury levels eight times higher than anywhere else in the state. As air pollution technology has improved, greater amounts of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury have further contaminated fly ash streams—yet the EPA has set no regulations on fly ash use in concrete.

Simple tests and regulations could ensure that questionable materials such as fly ash concrete are safe for our homes. If there’s any question, their use should be limited.

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