Coal ash is generated when power plants burn coal for energy. Coal ash is not classified as a hazardous waste, so there are no federal regulations that govern its use, storage, or disposal. Most coal ash is stored in open landfills or in ponds. There are over 800 coal ash storage sites in the U.S. and many are located near residential communities. Coal ash includes many components, but fly ash, which is comprised of small, spherical particles, is the greatest component. Composition of fly ash varies, but it frequently contains toxic metals (e.g. arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, and mercury), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and radioactive elements. Neurobehavioral disorders in children are associated with exposure to many of the metals that are contained in fly ash. Thus, children exposed to fly ash are potentially at risk of developing neurobehavioral disorders. Children are exposed to fly ash via inhalation and ingestion from fugitive dust emissions that come off the landfills and the ponds. This project will investigate the effect of fy ash on children who live in neighborhoods near two coal ash storage sites in Louisville, Kentucky. Some children live in homes within 150 feet of coal ash landfills and ponds. Working with neighborhoods within 10 miles of the coal ash storage sites, we will complete four specific aims: (1) Characterize indoor exposure from fly ash and heavy metals in homes of children residing near coal ash store sites compared to children living further away from coal ash storage sites, (2) Determine if the heavy metal body burden differs from children residing near coal ash storage sites compared to children living further away from storage sites, (3) Assess if increased fly ash exposure and greater heavy metal body burden is associated with poorer neurobehavioral performance and more neurobehavioral symptoms, (4) Utilize mapping, spatial analysis and modeling applications of geographic information systems (GIS) for household recruitment, analysis of distance decay effects, surface interpolation of Aims 1 and 2 results, and fate and transport modeling of fly ash. Three hundred and sixty children aged 6-14 will be recruited for this study. Neurobehavioral performance will be tested using the Behavioral Assessment Research System and neurobehavioral symptoms will be assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Any child who has a CBCL t score =7 will be further assessed through a Structured Clinical Interview for the Diagnosis of DSM Disorders (SCID). Environmental sampling in the homes will be completed to determine the presence of fly ash and metals. Toenail samples will be collected from the children and analyzed for heavy metals. Questionnaires and an in-home assessment will help to characterize environmental exposure history and health history of the children. The results will provide evidence to define the environmental health impact of coal ash.

Public Health Relevance

An estimated 1.54 million children in the U.S. are exposed to coal ash, yet the research investigating the health impacts from exposure is scarce. Children exposed to coal ash, which is comprised of small particles containing multiple heavy metals, are potentially at risk for developing neurobehavioral symptoms. This study, which will be the first to document coal ash exposure, heavy metal body burden, and neurobehavioral performance and symptoms in children, may provide evidence of the environmental and health impact of coal ash.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Research Project (R01)
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Behavioral Genetics and Epidemiology Study Section (BGES)
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Gray, Kimberly A
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University of Alabama Birmingham
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Public Health
United States
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