Just How Much Coal Ash is in the Great Lakes?

March 7, 2014


Coal Plant Rexp2 Creative Commons Trenton Channel power plant near Detroit, (Photo by rexp2 via Creative Commons)

In a recent post here on The WMEAC Blog, we wrote about the presence of microplastic beads in the Great Lakes. These beads are attributed to personal hygiene products, as outlined in a groundbreaking study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin. Here at WMEAC, however, we were struck by an additional finding within research—coal fly ash.

The research team initially misidentified fly ash particles as microplastic, because of its similarly round shape. However, upon closer examination using a scanning electron microscope (SEM), the research team discovered that 20% of the particles found in their samples were, in fact, fly ash.

Fly ash is a product of coal combustion that the EPA describes as similar in texture to talcum powder. Millions of tons are produced each year, some of which is reused in applications such as concrete, cement, and…

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