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Mixed Reaction of Coal Ash Removal from Hazardous Waste List

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On February 2nd, the Indonesian government declared that coal ash, such as Fly Ash, Bottom Ash (FABA), is no longer a hazardous waste product despite containing mercury, lead and arsenic. As a result, this move drew ire from environmental activists throughout the country [1].

Coal-fired Power Plant
Coal-fired Power Plant

Source: S. Hermann & F. Richter [14]


What do Fly Ash and Bottom Ash mean?

Fly Ash and Bottom Ash are by-products produced from burning coal. Fly ash is the very fine particle that later enters the air, whereas bottom ash falls to the ground since it is too large to be carried up into the smoke stacks [2]. Together, they are known as FABA, and they contain harmful substances which can pollute the air and groundwater if not managed properly.

Studies have shown that FABA can cause cancer, lung disease, respiratory disease, heart damage, kidney disease, reproductive problems, nervous system impacts, and so forth [3].

Health impacts of coal ash pollutant
Health impacts of coal ash pollutant

Source: Earth Justice [15]

Why remove FABA from the hazardous waste list if it’s so toxic to our health and environment?

According to Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, the Director General of Waste Management, Waste and Hazardous Toxic Materials stated that only FABA materials which use pulverized coal (PC) or chain grate stoker technology are classified as non-hazardous, and these producers must comply with existing environmental regulations [4].

Haryadi Sukamdani, the Chairman of APINDO, also welcomed the decision of taking out coal ash out of the hazardous waste list since it can be reused and has economic value [5]. The coal ash is mainly reused for civil engineering applicants such as cement, road construction, etc. But it also can be reused for making glass-ceramics, agriculture, as well as for making high value products and reduce the carbon footprint [6].

Another compelling reason is a fear of corruption. Additionally, the issued regulations on FABA removal also get supported by Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Indonesia. Lili Pintauli Siregar, Deputy Commissioner of KPK, stated the categorization of FABA into hazardous and dangerous waste might increase the risk of corruption due to the high cost of the management of FABA [7].

Nonetheless, Rosa affirmed that the removal of FABA from the hazardous waste list is backed up with science rather than the high cost of the management of FABA, citing that many countries have removed FABA from their hazardous waste list such as Japan, US, China, and countries in European Union (EU) [8].


And no, environmental activists are not buying it

Environmentalists argued that removing FABA from the hazardous waste list will harm the environment and society’s well being, especially residents who live near PLTU considering exposure could lead to silicosis and respiratory disease such as Coal Worker Pneumoconiosis (CWP) [9]. According to a report by Bappenas, FABA was found to be the most dangerous waste in 2019 where Bottom Ash scored 13 out of 14, while Fly Ash scored 11 out of 14 in terms of hazard level [10].

Moreover, Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) has criticized the government for their lack of consideration of the level of pollution that will be triggered following the implementation of this regulation since as non-hazardous waste, coal ash does not need to be tested before being utilized [11].

Egi Primayoga, Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) Researcher, also asserted that the study conducted by KPK was not holistic. Potential gaps in corruption cases in the upstream coal industry will still occur as long as there is no strict regulation and supervision from the government. He detailed that gaps in corruption or misappropriation will be rampant, starting from the land permit process to coal exploitation [12]. Worse, producers of coal ash might not be held responsible for improper management since coal ash is no longer a hazardous waste [13].


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