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Cash-strapped towns using actual toxic waste to de-ice their roads

Coal ash is what is left over after you burn coal. It is incredibly toxic and basically poison. So why not spread it on the road outside your child's school?

Spraying Toxic Coal Ash Is A Cheap And Popular Way To De-Ice Roads | ThinkProgress

The months of relentless winter weather that have pummeled much of the nation have forced many communities to get creative when it comes to de-icing roads. With salt for roads in short supply, everything from beet juice to cheese brine is being used to help drivers stay in control on slippery streets — including coal ash.

That’s right, for years, cities and towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, and Colorado have sprayed the toxic waste on roads to combat winter ice and snow. Municipalities often get it for free from power plants who are eager to dispose of it somehow and it never seems to be in short supply.

Coal ash, the residue left over from burning coal to generate electricity, contains some very dangerous substances including arsenic, lead, mercury chromium, and cadmium. When coal ash washes from a road into a ditch or storm sewer it can leach toxic compounds into the water and soil.

According to the American Coal Ash Association, 256,000 tons of coal ash were distributed for use on roads in 2012.

Barb Gottlieb, director of environment and health for Physicians for Social Responsibility, said that using coal ash in this way “should be recognized as a problem.” She singled out chromium, for example, as a “very dangerous carcinogen” that is even more dangerous when wet.