Last Saturday marked the six-month anniversary of the horrendous Duke Energy coal ash spill in North Carolina. Over the week-long spill, 39,000 tons of toxic, coal ash-laden sludge and 27 million gallons of contaminated water leaked into the Dan River. As devastating as the spill was, it was only the third largest spill in history. Without proper regulation, countless more should be expected.

Coal ash is the byproduct of coal-fired energy creation. This leftover ash contains arsenic, mercury, lead, selenium and many other toxins. These elements can lead to conditions like cancer, lung diseases, liver diseases, mental retardation, asthma and numerous other health- and birth-related problems.

Coal ash disposal is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Rather, it is often stored in often-unlined ponds or lagoons on major waterways. There are nine coal-fired power plants that store coal ash in Alabama. One of these, Widows Creek Fossil Plant, spilled more than 10,000 gallons into Widows Creek and the Tennessee River in 2009.

The EPA is expected to rule on coal ash on Dec. 14. As a young adult who anticipates children in the near future, I hope the EPA regulates coal ash as the toxic material that it is. I pray the EPA mandates the removal of this potential ecosystem-destroying substance from our rivers as soon as possible for the well-being of all Alabamians and Americans, who are, or otherwise will be, detrimentally impacted by coal-ash waste.

Alan Clayton