Coal-fired power plants generate about 140 million tons of fly ash, scrubber sludge, and other combustion wastes every year. These wastes contain some of the earth's most deadly pollutants, including toxic metals that can cause cancer and neurological harm in humans.
Coal combustion waste sites are known to have contaminated groundwater, wetlands, creeks, or rivers. These could easily have been prevented with sensible safeguards such as phasing out leak-prone ash ponds and requiring the use of synthetic liners and leachate collection systems. Yet, incredibly, ash and other coal combustion wastes are not subject to federal regulations that require these simple safeguards.
Use this interactive map to find where pond failures and water contamination have occurred:
Contaminated Site and Spill
Total known* cases of contamination and spills:
203 in 37 states
Updated: December 2012
* Note: These cases of documented water contamination are likely to be only a small percentage of the coal ash-contaminated sites in the U.S.
Most coal ash landfills and ponds do not conduct monitoring, so the majority of water contamination goes undetected. According to U.S. EPA, there are over 1,000 operating coal ash landfills and ponds and many hundreds of "retired" coal ash disposal sites.
Additional information on these contaminated sites: State Fact Sheets on Coal Ash.
For more information on coal ash ponds and landfills in the southeast, please visit Southeast Coal Ash Waste, a website managed by our coalition partners at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Data Table: Known Cases of Contamination and Spills
Contaminated Site (178)
Contaminated Site & Spill (11)
New Mexico (2)
New York (5)
North Carolina (14)
North Dakota (6)
South Carolina (10)
South Dakota (1)
West Virginia (7)
Site Name (Owner) / Location
Known Pollutants Exceeding State and / or Federal Standards (or Other Evidence of Damage)
- EIP 2/2010 is Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites, Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, Feb. 24, 2010.
- EIP 8/2010 is In Harm's Way: Lack of Federal Coal Ash Regulations Endangers Americans and their Environment, Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and Sierra Club, Aug. 26, 2010.
- EPA 2007 is Coal Combustion Waste Damage Case Assessments, U.S. EPA, July 9, 2007.
- EIP 12/2011 is Risky Business: Coal Ash Threatens America's Groundwater Resources at 19 More Sites, Environmental Integrity Project, Dec. 12, 2011.
- EPA ICR Data 3/2012 is EPA Office of Water data showing MCL [Maximum Contaminant Level] / state standard exceedances.
- EPA Database is Information Request Responses from Electric Utilities, U.S. EPA, Jan. 13, 2012. Follow link to Database Results (Excel).