Give Thanks: NSF Retracts Post-consumer Fly Ash Designation

James Vallette | November 20, 2012

Late yesterday, NSF International issued a statement retracting its recent change in position on fly ash:

“NSF International, an independent organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the building, food, water and consumer goods industries, has retracted verification of the claim that Boral Material Technologies fly ash is a post-consumer material.  Historically fly ash has been classified as a pre-consumer waste.”

The retraction is the latest setback for a fly ash industry that faces increased marketplace resistance and regulatory inquiry. Boral and Headwaters Resources, the two dominant fly ash marketers, are suing the US Environmental Protection Agency.  In October 2012, the EPA filed a motion to dismiss the Boral and Headwaters suits.

Once a cheerleader for the “beneficial reuse” of coal power plant waste, the EPA is considering quite the opposite position: regulating it as hazardous waste. Fly ash, a fine, powdery material collected from smokestacks, routinely exceeds toxicity tests for heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, chromium and selenium.

The NSF statement retracts the organization’s determination in August that “Celceram” — Boral’s trade name for fly ash used as filler in carpet backings — is a 100% post-consumer product.

Healthy Building Network policy director Tom Lent first reported on the fly ash marketing industry’s efforts with certifying organizations in a Pharos Project Signal article last month. “Fly ash companies apparently unsuccessfully approached several certifier organizations with the claim before finding NSF…. Fly ash is a byproduct of an industrial process and should not count as a post-consumer product any more than the shavings from a milling operation would be considered post-consumer,” he wrote.

In a comment to that article, posted yesterday, Greta Houlahan of NSF International added some more detail about her organization's decision:

“Even though there is room for interpretation when classifying specific recycled materials against current definitions of ‘post-consumer,’ historically fly ash has been classified as a pre-consumer waste, and NSF agrees this is the generally accepted classification. Additionally, NSF Sustainability intends to pursue, through the ISO technical committee, a clarification in language describing post-consumer recycled content in the ISO 14021 environmental labels and declarations standard.”

Tom Lent of HBN welcomed the decision.  “We compliment NSF on their responsiveness,” he said. “We appreciate their initiative on clarifying the ISO standard, and encouraging movement toward true closed loop systems.”