Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
First Coast

Coal Ash Barge Had Minimal Impact On Jax Coastal Environment, Report Finds

screen_shot_2021-06-22_at_4.22.49_pm_cropped.png
RPI Report
/

Some three months after a barge ran aground off the Jacksonville coast, spilling thousands of tons of a coal waste product, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has released its report on the environmental damage. 

Quinton White, Director of Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the findings. “The material is not as hazardous as we thought it was. In most cases, the contaminant levels are below regulatory limits, which is good news. It’s not as harmful as we feared.”

The barge was carrying a cargo of approximately 14,383 tons Agremax, a product that consists  of multiple types of waste from the burning of coal for electricity. On May 14, weather knocked the boat off-kilter, exposing as much 9,314 tons of Agremax to be released. Newer estimates show that amount may be smaller by as much 4,000 tons after divers entered the hatch for the first time in weeks. 

The report was commissioned by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and conducted by RPI, an environmental research firm based in South Carolina. 

Analysts are still digging through the 60 pages of released reports, but an initial assessment shows that the coal ash contained toxins within regulatory limits. 

Environmental experts sampled 44 points around the capsized barge and on the nearby shoreline. They found Agremax less than a quarter of a centimeter thick in four of those 44 points, all of which were in the ocean very near the barge. 

“Our staff will be reviewing these results to ensure potential environmental impacts from the release of the barge’s cargo is appropriately addressed,” said Russell Simpson, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “This data will inform the department’s next steps, including appropriate enforcement actions.”

Early analysis shows there was no damage to the shoreline, or to organisms living in the seafloor near the barge. 

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.