Trapper Mine, power plant to rate high on Toxic Release Inventory

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Chemical releases from Trapper Mine and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Craig Station will be listed high on the newly-mandated Toxic Release Inventory a report required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The inventory requires electric utility companies and coal mines to report the amount of chemicals released into the environment via air, land or water.

For Tri-State, that means it will report the 600,000 pounds of coal ash discarded as a by-product of coal combustion. Since that ash is returned to Trapper Mine where it is used as structural backfill for land reclamation efforts, Trapper Mine also reports it as a by-product.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to release the 1998 report in the next few weeks and officials with Trapper Mine expect to be listed as the third highest contibutor to coal mine releases on the national list and third or fourth on the list for all industries in Colorado.

"Needless to say, our ranking on the national list came as quite a surprise to us," Forrest Luke, environmental manager for Trapper Mine said.

Mines and electric utility companies have always reported releases, but now must include them in a report to the EPA. The report is required under the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act which was amended in 1997 to include mines and electric utility companies. Before the change, only chemical manufacturers were required to report annual chemical releases to the EPA.

"Why they pulled utilities and mines into this regulation, I don't know, because it really deviates from the intent of the legislation," Tri-State spokeswoman Barbara Walz said.

She believes the intent is to give residents a way to review the numbers that is easily understood. The information that will be contained in the report is not new, it has always been available to the public through other state and federal reporting programs.

The EPA lists more than 600 chemicals that companies must evaluate and inventory. Tri-State and Trapper Mine must report metals and other chemicals that are a by-product of the coal combustion process. Those chemicals include barium, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen sulfate, nickel, lead, chromium, copper, zinc and manganese. These metals are found in coal and in coal ash.

According to Luke, Trapper Mine reports 1.5 million pounds of metals released. These metals are found naturally in coal and studies show they pose no environmental risks. In fact, he said, the amount reported by Trapper Mine is relatively small compared to the releases reported by other companies.

Eight percent of the chemicals reported by Tri-State are air releases. The other 92 percent is coal ash.

In a report to congress, EPA officials confirmed that coal ash is non-hazardous to either human health or the environment due to its low toxicity level. The EPA study also concluded that utility air emissions pose an extremely low risk to human health.

"All research to date indicates emissions to air, land and water by the Craig Station and Trapper have no significant health impacts," Tri-State spokeswoman Barbara Walz said.

Because of the high amount of releases reported, Trapper Mine expects additional concern and scrutiny from the public and regulatory agencies, Luke said.

"Anti-mining groups will likely attempt to mischaracterize our reported numbers to further their misguided agenda to eliminate coal burning in the United States," he said.

Luke stressed the releases were being managed so they are not harmful to anybody or anything.

"The physical and chemical properties of coal ash were thoroughly analyzed before the materials were accepted at Trapper," Luke said. "No physical health or environmental concerns were identified."

About 4.5 million tons of coal are burned each year at the Craig Station producing more than 300,000 tons of coal ash. This is the most coal burned by any electric utility in Colorado.

In 1998, the Craig Station reported an air release of 123,460 pounds of chemicals, the highest being hydrogen fluoride. The power plant reported 1,550,000 pounds of land release materials with the highest being barium at 1,300,000 pounds. The plant reported no water releases.

"While the numbers might be large, the reported metals are contained and controlled on land-based reclamation efforts at Trapper Mine," a Tri-State press release stated.

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