Burning coal for power -- it's a common practice in the US, but it leaves behind a potentially hazardous material.
"Coal ash is the by product of burning coal to create energy," said Susan Harley, the Michigan policy director for Clean Water Action. "It is toxic waste product that is full of contaminants."
Today is a national day of action against coal ash. The Clean Water Action group says household garbage is better regulated than coal ash, and is demanding the government take action.
Coal ash, and the way its disposed, garnered national attention in December of 2008, when a retaining wall broke in Tennessee. A billion gallons of coal ash sludge spilled into two rivers, and buried 400 acres of land six feet deep. Experts call it one of the largest toxic waste spills in US history. Ten months later, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed federal standards for coal ash disposal.
"But two years later we have not seen anything finalized," said Harley.
That's why the Clean Water Action group is pushing for strong federal regulations of coal ash disposal sites, like the 51-acre site off Comfort Street in Lansing. It's an unlined pit bordering the Grand River and a residential neighborhood. The Lansing Board of Water and Light used to dump coal ash there more than 30 years ago.
"Not many people know there's a coal ash disposal site in their neighborhood," Harley said. "That they could be potentially exposed to coal ash sites leaking contaminants."
BWL has been working to clean up the site since the spring of 2009, but says it still has more than 300,000 cubic yards of coal ash left to excavate. Susan Harley says it's a step in the right direction in Lansing, but more can be done statewide.
"This is something that has been going on for decades, but its time that we take action to stop it now."
Environmental groups across the country are asking for people to call their elected officials today to urge them to regulate coal ash disposal. If you want to follow the movement on Twitter, join the conversation with #kickcoalash.