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What is Fly-Ash?

City Utilities
CU is proposing the new landfill, which would be located near the John Twitty Energy Center southwest of town/Credit: Scott Harvey

Citizens whose vehicles were coated in a powdery substance have through Thursday to take advantage of a free car wash in Springfield following a power plant malfunction. KSMU’s Scott Harvey has more on fly-ash, a term perhaps unknown to many prior to Tuesday’s incident.

Steve Stodden is the associate general manager of electric supply with City Utilities. He says that when you combust coal, you essentially end up with two types of ash.

“The majority of it is what we call fly-ash, which is the smaller, lighter particles. The heavier stuff is called bottom-ash, falls to the bottom of the boiler. A lot more like a fanned product. So the fly-ash is more like a talcum powder product, where the bottom-ash is more like a fanned type of product,” Stodden said.

Typically, more than 99 percent of the product is captured, and then transported to an on-site landfill at the facility, says Stodden.

“We had a bypass damper open and so it bypassed one of our control measures and went out the stack.”

Exact details of what caused the incident were not immediately clear. By law, it has been reported to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, who will conduct an investigation.

Officials are noting that fly-ash is not hazardous to people, animals, or vegetation.

“Every independent study that we’ve ever seen has shown that it’s a benign product; similar minerals to what you’d find in soil,” Stodden says.

Fly-ash can be rinsed with water from most surfaces. Since it can be an abrasive substance, residents whose cars were coated are encouraged to wash their cars, rather than wipe off and potentially leave scratches.

CU is providing a free car wash at any of five facilities through Thursday for customers located in the area bounded approximately by West Bypass, Haseltine Road, Sunshine Street, and Chestnut Expressway. A list of those businesses is at www.cityutilities.net.