Friday, April 06, 2012

The Tip of the Coal Ash Iceberg in Florida. Guest Blog by Angelique Giraud

A heart-wrenching story of one environmental injustice...

Steve Johnson and His Daughter Stand on Coal Ash Covered Driveway
Steve Johnson and his family live on 30 beautiful acres of Florida’s Blackwater Creek, in Middleburg, a preserved wetland in northeast Florida connected to the St. John’s River. It is a quiet rural residential area and appears to be perfect for raising his family and new born daughter while running his lawn care business. Steve’s property is well maintained, he takes pride in the natural aesthetics of his land. For many years, Steve even kept free range chickens for the family’s fresh eggs. However, his picture perfect lifestyle is not as it seems. Steve has been fighting for three years to have the toxic containing coal ash, a byproduct from a coal fired power plant, removed from his land.

Steve’s story is not unique. Steve was provided with approximately 1500 dump trucks each with 20 yard loads of a coal ash, commercially called EZBase, to build up his roads. The coal ash was taken from the Northside Generating Station, owned by Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA), which is over 40 miles from his home. JEA did not advise Steve that using the product might cause dangerous repercussions, so he applied it thoroughly across his property. Soon after, the horrors began. Steve was visited by an enforcement officer from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The officer was investigating the application and placement of EZBase. FDEP instructed Steve to remove the product as it was too close to wetlands and water bodies, risking toxic contamination. Steve was also told that the material he applied on the roads should not be inhaled or ingested, and was warned that he should pen up his chickens and keep his daughter away from playing on the newly paved roads.

Pile of Coal Ash EZBase - Some is Gravel, Some Boulders -Steve Had to Break up Boulders Himself

According to JEA’s own marketing materials, EZBase is an electric generation byproduct made of coal combustion waste or coal ash. The federal government does not consider coal ash hazardous waste, but allows states to individually determine how to regulate its use. The FDEP classifies coal ash as a non-hazardous “special waste.” This designation leaves little public health protection, even though the product contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, mercury, and many others.

Alarmed and frustrated about being misled, Steve hired a lawyer to sue JEA to force them to remove EZBase from his entire property. JEA refused to remove EZBase completely, claiming Steve improperly applied the product, placing it too close to protected wetlands and other sources of open water.

Steve was taken aback at this accusation, as he had specifically discussed appropriate application sites with a JEA representative before EZBase was unloaded on to his property.

JEA provided a pamphlet describing the product, which was nothing like what was delivered. Rather than a dry sandy mixture, it was a slurry concoction of coal ash and boulder sized pieces of bottom ash. JEA claims that Steve’s problems were his own fault due to his misapplication. The reality is that the precautions and uses described in the brochure seemed to be for a completely different and benign product.

Steve Put the Coal Ash all Over His Property - Right Up to His Doorstep
Due to the concerns raised by FDEP, Steve independently contracted a respected chemical testing firm to analyze the soils on his property. The firm reported high concentrations of metals. In fact, according to the soil cleanup target level for remedied brownfields recommended by the Department of State, arsenic concentrations were 4 times higher and Vanadium tested to be 74 times higher, and when compared to the median level of metals in soils across Florida arsenic was tested to be 45 times higher than the median level in soils, and chromium was 12 times higher than the median level in Florida soils. If the raw facts of toxics present were not enough to prove the dangers of this product, Steve also noted that his once healthy farm fresh eggs began turning gray and blotchy. When this point was later brought up in court, Steve was told that these blemishes are normal for chicken eggs, although he had never seen anything like it in all his years of farming. The evidence provided by the test results and firsthand experience clearly confirmed that extensive pollution existed on Steve’s property. But there was one remaining point of contention: was EZBase the cause?

It is now three years later, and JEA will not take full responsibility for the damage done to Steve’s property. While JEA has removed coal ash from Steve’s boat ramp where it was directly on the water of a preserved wetland, they would not pay for full removal beyond what was required by FDEP.

JEA Northside Generating Station - Owned by Jacksonville Electric

Three months after discovering that his once pristine property is now polluted, Steve and his family relocated to Alaska for a year to protect their health. They were forced to get rid of their chickens, sell their farming and landscaping equipment, move from their home, and now are facing the threat of losing their property altogether. Although JEA offered Steve a release to remove EZBase for him, he could not agree to turn a blind eye on the fact that toxics had contaminated his land and could jeopardize the health of his family and others. Having lived through this terrible ordeal firsthand, Steve understands the critical importance of ensuring that the public is made aware of the dangers of coal ash products in their community. The health of his baby daughter – and all of the children put at risk by the use of this toxic substance - will never be worth settling.

The double standard is infuriating. While Steve was told by FDEP to remove EZBase from his property at his own expense, JEA was given a mere slap on the wrist for knowingly polluting preserved habitats. Even worse, JEA was also given a big pat on the back, and wallet, for recycling this same product.

Steve Johnson is not alone. Coal burning power plants produce more than 130 million tons of coal ash each year. In Florida alone, over 4.1million tons were produced in 2010 with at least half a million tons coming from JEA. Nationally, half of this waste is recycled for “beneficial uses” with applications such as EZBase, cement, and filling in old mines, which poses serious risk for explosion and leaching of toxics into surrounding water supplies.

Very little research has been done on the safety of the reuse of coal ash. Currently, the federal government has delegated to the states the authority to decide how coal ash should be handled. As far as Steve Johnson, his neighbors, and the untold thousands of people in communities across Florida and the country are concerned, coal ash is a national problem of environmental injustice, and should be regulated by EPA as a hazardous waste. Tens of thousands of Floridians live near old coal plants and the unsuspecting public has a right to know what toxins are in their neighborhoods, threatening the safety of their families and water supply. 
Steve Unwittingly Spread the Coal Ash Everywhere on His Property

Now is the time to take action for people like Steve Johnson and for the safety of your own family. The first step toward ensuring the safety of your community is to write to your Florida U.S. Senators today. Tell Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio to put the health and safety of your family ahead of the profits of private industry. As your elected officials, it is their job to protect your health and the environment. Pass along Steve’s story and if you have one of your own, send it to

Angelique Giraud
Energy Community Organizer
Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund


Geniusofdespair said...

This story broke my heart. It is about someone operating on trust and his trust was subverted by this unscrupulous energy company. 30 acres of Florida land is poisoned and so is the water beneath it, not to mention this poor man breathing in the dust as he spread it and broke up the boulders. Why doesn't anyone care? More important why isn't coal ash recognized as a pollutant?

Anonymous said...

Good post. Didn't know anything about coal ash and didn't know it was in Florida.

Youbetcha' said...

Wow. I used to visit my cousins who lived on the st. john's.

Tort reform sucks. I need to remind people that without lawyers and lawsuits, large corporations will run over the general population. This man is not only facing the tragic loss of his dream, but the brutal fact that he is facing a large corporation with inhouse attorneys that have nothing better to do other than clean up the company's business decisions. If we have tort reform, and then we have toxic waste, corporate lies, and greed then we have people getting hurt.

Anonymous said...

Once again, the little guy is stuck with paying the cost of the big polluter. I am sure a multi-billion dollar company would be eligible for some type of government bailout for clean up on the taxpayer dime.

Bambi said...

Corporations are people, too.

They should strip searched.

As for Mr. Johnson, justice delayed is justice reality.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if Turkey Point has coal ash?

Anonymous said...

This sad story is just the tip of the iceberg. It appears that state regulatory agencies are completely in the hands of the large corporations. Federal regulations are necessary with power to impose fines and stop pollution. This problem appears to be much larger than the state of Florida.

Geniusofdespair said...

I just looked at their website and here is what is says: is currently being upgraded.

found this on another:


JEA conducted a two-year Beneficial Use Demonstration (BUD) to determine the potential for environmental and/or health effects associated with EZBase. As a result of this effort, EZBase, when properly applied for the specific application and in compliance with the limitations outlined in the FDEP Beneficial Use Authorization, was deemed non-hazardous and safe for humans, health and the environment as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

During the BUD process, effects of EZBase on soils, surface waters, and groundwater were evaluated by several different approaches, including field studies. FDEP determined that use of EZBase constitutes a beneficial reuse of an industrial byproduct when used in specific applications. The material was judged to be safe for the approved applications and does not pose a threat to the environment or to humans, including personnel applying the product as a part of their daily tasks. EZBase was also determined to be safe for use as a replacement for other conventional civil construction materials such as limestone and concrete.

Anonymous said...

See if Jeffrey Bercow will take this case pro bono.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I will check out the lawyer. Steve needs all the help he can get.
Earthjustice filed a lawsuit yesterday to force the EPA to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste. That is the problem, when companies say they are in full compliance of the law, you want to believe that the laws protect you, but when the law falls short and these companies are not legally accountable, the law must change. Unfortunately it is up to us to recognize when that needs to be.

Turkey point does not have coal, but they do have oil fired generators, which also produces a similar waste. I will be looking into it more soon.

Anonymous said...

EZBase was also given to Steve's neighbors too, including the Girl Scout camp - more than 30 acres near a preserved wetland part of the St John's River reservoir.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I understand this ... he asked for the company to dump coal ash on his giant 30 acre property to build up his roads. But now he has second thoughts after he was cited by the state?

Why would anyone welcome coal ash to be dumped on their property? He has only himself to blame. said...

Steve's family probably won't find Alaska any better. From one corner of the U.S. to the other, utility companies, having bought our legislators, are able to do as they wish to us, our air, water and land. Coal-fired electric plants are the primary source of mercury in the air. Little wonder the ash is likewise contaminated.
How many of Steve's Florida neighbors, like the Girl Scouts Anonymous mentioned above, have paid for this poison to be put on their land? Too bad Steve has left rather than organizing with neighbors, not just relying on lawyers, to fight JEA.

Anonymous said...

He didn't know it was a health hazard or he wouldn't have put it on his property.

chris said...

Did he contact the company for their product? Did he willingly purchase the product? Did he know that he lived in a wetland area with increased regulations?

As they say, caveat emptor ... let the buyer beware.

Anonymous said...

The folks In the 8.5 mile area did the same thing... They took dirty fill and dumped all over there property... Except they did not get fill permits.

Anonymous said...

Tip of the iceberg

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of those folks in the 8.5 Square Mile Area that allowed tons of mulched hurricane debris, mostly from Monroe County, to be dumped on their land - mostly wetlands. They thought they were getting something for nothing. Now they want the government to clean it up and for taxpayers to foot the bill.

Anonymous said...

I dont feel sorry for anyone who owns 30 acres of land, especially those who make stupid decisions in an effort to cut corners. I am unemployed and I cant relate to his plight.

Geniusofdespair said...

You are ignorant and don't know the meaning of empathy. Can't you live life without jealously? This guy is not rolling in dough. If you want to hate someone that has more than you -- focus on the 1% at the top don't begrudge a working stiff. Get the chip off your shoulder and maybe someone will hire you. This guy was not told the truth about the product.

Anonymous said...

Steve did not ask or contact JEA for EZBase or any product. Steve paved his roads years before he heard of EZBase. The JEA agent came to his residential property and asked if Steve would like to use their product to build up his roads, like a free trial.

JEA told Steve about their other projects that used EZBase, such as the JPA military base and repeatedly saying it was "as safe as sand". So, Steve said he would try some of it.

JEA immediately rushed over hundreds of dump truck loads.

Steve wants JEA to pay to clean his land. JEA is in the wrong here if, as he said, they misrepresented the product.

Perhaps the law is in the wrong as well. Should the government change laws based on outdated science?

As we became aware of mercury and other toxic materials being emitted into the air we learned to capture some of it, but burning coal still produces toxics. Some say that throwing these wastes onto the land doesn't properly resolve contamination issues.

Anonymous said...

Great story! Heartbreaking and important. It is despicable what companies are allowed to get away with and critical that we are made aware of it. Thanks

The HyperLinker said...

I think it's time to ask Erin Brockovich to help Steve and his neighbors for this injustice. Please Erin :