Some wastes would be reused, not landfilled, under bills

By ASHLEY WEIGEL

Capital News Service

LANSING — Coal ash could be used in concrete, lime ash could be used for farming and copper sand could be made into shingles under legislation that would allow certain industries to sell byproducts that they now throw away.

These byproducts can’t be used now because they are classified as hazardous materials that can potentially harm the environment. But recently introduced “beneficial reuse” legislation would provide parameters for testing their toxicity. If the byproducts passed the test, they could be sold and reused rather than sent to expensive landfills. The bills will be discussed in committee and possibly reported out on April 17.

These materials include sand with a high concentration of copper found on some beaches in the Upper Peninsula.  The material, which is leftover runoff from copper mining, could be used for shingles on roofs to prevent moss.

Limekiln dust, a byproduct of many industrial companies, could be sprinkled on fields to keep them from becoming too acidic. Coal fly ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal to produce energy, could be mixed into cement and asphalt for use in roads.

Paper mill residuals are also a reusable byproduct covered in the legislation, as it can be used to supply nutrients to soil in fields.

These industrial byproducts are now taken to landfills for hazardous waste, which is very expensive for the companies that create them, said Andy Such, director of Environmental & Regulatory Policy for the Michigan Manufacturers Association. By finding a new use for them, less waste would go to these landfills, Such said. Michigan industries produce millions of tons of it every year.

Farmers could use many of the byproducts, said Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, a sponsor of one of the bills in the package. These bills would be “good for all sectors of the economy,” McBroom said.

The sponsor of another one of the bills has been faced with some challenges though.

“Every special interest group has a finger in [the legislation],” said Joe Underwood, who is the chief of staff for state Rep. Wayne Schmidt’s, R-Traverse City.

And it’s not without opposition. Landfill owners would be getting less money, and environmentalists worry about the toxicity of some of these materials if they are put back into the environment.

The Michigan Environmental Council gave testimony in opposition to the bills, stating concerns including the possible contamination of water aquifers and the levels of mercury found in coal fly ash. Since new rules at both the state and federal levels require coal plants to remove 90 percent of the mercury found in smokestack emissions starting next year, Policy Director James Clift said in his testimony that the mercury will mostly be captured in the fly ash, and putting that mercury into roads will cause problems in the future.

The Michigan Waste Industries Association also opposes the bills, and in testimony stated they would like to see more than just one test for the materials, possibly an annual test. The association also said they would like those using the program to pay part of the expenses created by the bills.

The bills have been in the works since the early 1990s, Underwood said. In January of 2013, Schmidt picked up the bills from a former representative and began working to improve them.

In March, he introduced them to the House Natural Resources Committee.

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