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Environmentalists fight U.S. levee plan

BELLEVILLE, Ill., June 28 (UPI) -- Environmental groups say they're fighting a U.S. government plan to use toxin-laden coal ash in flood-protection levees along the Mississippi River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to use the coal ash -- residue from coal combustion at power plants -- to fortify levees along a 200-mile stretch of the river between Alton and Gale in southern Illinois, the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat reported.

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The newspaper noted coal ash, sometimes called fly ash, contains toxins including arsenic and mercury and has been linked in numerous studies to cancer.

But an environmental assessment by the Corps of Engineers played down the risk of putting a lime-fly ash mixture into the levees to solidify clay.

"Because of the chemical reaction that takes place with lime, fly ash and water, trace heavy metals are locked into the cement matrix, no longer able to leach into the ground," the assessment stated.

Kathy Andria, president of the American Bottoms Conservancy, disputed that claim, saying unstable coal ash degrades in water, which she says should have ruled it out for levee construction.

"My initial impression was, 'This is really crazy,'" Andria said. "Why would they do that? I don't think they thought it through."

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The levee plan will be the the focus of a July 15 public hearing in St. Louis.

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