Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives

Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned.
Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins from coal ash readily leach into drinking water supplies.
The EPA has agreed to finalize the first-ever federal regulations for the disposal of coal ash by December 2014.
We're working to ensure the rule includes strong, federally enforceable requirements for monitoring and cleanup.
A Landmark Win
Victory: Celebrating an Historic Agreement on Coal Ash. The Long Wait is Over:
EPA Agrees to Finalize Waste Rule

Environmental litigation prevails, with local coal ash communities to finally gain some protection. The U.S. EPA will finalize the first-ever federal regulations for the disposal of coal ash by December 19, 2014, according to a court settlement.

Learn more.
A Nevada Story
The Moapa River Indian Reservation, with the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant in the background. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice) An Ill Wind

"You flip on a light switch.
That power is not coming from that light switch—that power is generated somewhere else. And it impacts people."

The Moapa River Indian Reservation, tribal home of a band of Paiute Indians, sits about 30 miles north of Las Vegas—and about 300 yards from the coal ash landfills of the Reid Gardner Power Station.

Start Video Feature.
An Alabama Story
Esther Calhoun holds a button of the local community group fighting the coal ash pollution. A Toxic Inheritance

""The thing is, we’re never gonna stop fighting.
What we want is simple. We expect justice."

An Alabama community inherited the worst coal ash spill in U.S. history—four million cubic yards of toxic ash that is now poisoning their air and water. This is the story of how residents of Uniontown are fighting back.

Explore Feature.
The disastrous 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee. (TVA)
Blog Column
Tr-Ash Talk
Looking for the Latest on Coal Ash?
Read analysis of coal ash bills on Capitol Hill, guest posts from communities fighting coal ash, and more, in the weekly blog series "Tr-Ash Talk."

   Read Tr-Ash Talk »  

180 Seconds of Coal Ash Problems
Limpien las Cenizas Tóxicas de Carbón

Take ActionThere are some U.S. senators want to ignore the 2008 coal ash disaster in Tennessee and avoid deadlines to clean up this toxic waste all across America. We can't let polluter profits triumph over public health. Call your senators today!

En Carolina del Norte, un río envenenado con arsénico. En Nevada, un pueblo en el desierto cubierto en cenizas tóxicas. En Virginia Occidental, desechos apestosos burbujean de la tierra.

Cases: Current Related Litigation

Legal Fight For Long Overdue Coal Ash Protections
Earthjustice is representing 11 environmental and public health groups in a lawsuit to force the U.S. EPA to complete its rulemaking process and finalize public health safeguards against toxic coal ash.

Case Details  |  Complaint  |  Press Release  |  Blog Post

Defending Uniontown, AL from Toxic Coal Ash
Earthjustice is representing six Alabama residents in a civil rights complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits recipients of federal funds, including state agencies, from taking actions or implementing policies that have unjustified disproportionate adverse effect on the basis of race.

Case Details  |  Feature Story

Toxic Coal Ash Problem at Colstrip in Montana
Earthjustice filed an appeal with Montana’s Board of Environmental Review on behalf of conservation groups, claiming that the state is doing little to nothing to address decades of groundwater pollution from Colstrip’s waste tailings ponds. Sludge ponds holding toxic coal ash waste from the Colstrip power plant were first discovered to be leaking nearly a decade ago.

Appeal  |  Press Release

Maps: Is Coal Ash Close to Home?

Coal ash disposal sites may be closer than you realize. Explore fact sheets by state and known cases of contamination and spills.

State fact sheets map.

State Fact Sheets on Coal Ash

In response to FOIA requests, EPA has revealed the existence of more than 1,000 coal ash dump sites across the country. Find out where they are.

   Locations & Fact Sheets »  

Coal ash-contaminated sites map.

Coal Ash-Contaminated Sites

Across the country, there have been nearly 200 documented cases of coal ash pond failures and water contamination. Find out where they've occurred.

   Contaminated Sites »  

Significant & High Hazard Dams Map.

High and Significant Hazard
Coal Ash Dump Sites

EPA rates coal ash ponds according to criteria that categorizes the ponds by the damage that would occur if the pond collapses.

   High & Significant Hazard »  

Threats to Our Health: Coal Ash is Toxic

Coal ash commonly contains some of the world’s deadliest toxicants that can cause cancer and neurological damage.

Health Impacts of Coal Ash Contaminants.

Health Impacts of
Coal Ash Contaminants

The toxic pollutants in coal ash have the potential to injure all major organ systems, damage physical health and development—and contribute to mortality.

   Health Impacts »   

Toxic metals infographic.

Toxic Metals in Coal Ash

Current methods of coal ash disposal often lead to contaminated drinking water— and the differences in toxic metal concentration amounts between safe drinking water and coal ash are staggering.

   Toxic Metals »   

Videos: Living With Coal Ash

Watch videos of communities fighting back against coal ash pollution.

Photo by Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice.

An Ill Wind

In Nevada, the Moapa River Indian Reservation is fighting back against coal ash pollution from the nearby Reid Gardner Power Plant.

   Watch Video »   

Toxic metals infographic.

World Water Day in North Carolina

The community of Asheville came together on World Water Day to call for protection of their waters from coal ash.

   Watch Video »   

Photo Essays: Living With Coal Ash

Everyday, communities across the United States are bearing the true impacts of toxic coal ash pollution. See some of their stories:

Former Moapa Paiute Tribal Chairman and Reid Gardner worker Vernon Lee stands behind his home of the Moapa River Reservation. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice) Nevada: Moapa River Indian Reservation

The tribal home of a band of Paiute Indians sits about 30 miles north of Las Vegas—and about 300 yards from the coal ash landfills of the Reid Gardner Power Station.

   View Photos »   

Residents of Chester, WV. West Virginia: Chester and Lawrenceville

The Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment is the largest unlined coal ash pond in the country, spanning two states (West Virginia and Pennsylvania) and bordering a third (Ohio).

   View Photos »   

Client Esther Calhoun holds a button of the community group.

A Toxic Inheritance

An Alabama community inherits the worst coal ash spill in U.S. history. This is the story of how they're fighting back.

   View Photos »  

The Fight For Coal Ash Regulation

No federal standards exist to regulate how coal ash is disposed or recycled. Follow Earthjustice's ongoing work for federally enforceable safeguards in the series, Tr-Ash Talk.

EPA's Proposal for Coal Ash Disposal & Earthjustice's Comments

EPA logo.
Proposed Rule

Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals

In 2010, the EPA proposed the first ever federal regulation of coal ash. The agency proposed two options: one offers a groundbreaking solution to closing and monitoring leaking toxic coal ash dumps, while the other perpetuates the status quo.

EPA will act by December 2014 on a final federal coal ash rule.

Earthjustice logo.
Public Comment

Final Comments on EPA's Proposed Rule

In a 230-page comment letter to the EPA, Earthjustice and its partners clearly demonstrated that the EPA must choose the option to regulate coal ash as a "special waste" under subtitle C, with federally enforceable minimum standards applicable in every state.

In Congress: Legislation Against Coal Ash Safeguards

U.S. House of Representatives Seal.
113th Congress

H.R. 2218

Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), H.R. 2218 endangers public health and the safety of thousands of communities by subverting the EPA’s ability to set federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash pollution.

Hundreds of coal ash sites have already poisoned waters, yet H.R. 2218 would allow power companies to continue dumping toxic coal ash into unlined and unmonitored landfills and ponds.

U.S. Senate Seal.
112th Congress

S. 3512

This dangerous bill would have permanently prohibited the EPA from ever setting federal coal ash protections, posing a significant threat to communities living near coal ash sites.

S. 3512 is bad for jobs, the economy and recycling. Although the bill purports to support recycling and jobs, it actually hurts both. See how.

Analysis: Four Coal Ash Regulatory Schemes

Magnifying glass.

Comparison of Coal Ash Regulation under Four Regulatory Schemes

A comparison chart analyzes the presence or absence of regulatory requirements under four different regulatory schemes:

1. EPA's proposed subtitle C (special waste) rule;
2. EPA's proposed subtitle D (nonhazardous waste) rule;
3. H.R. 2273 / S. 1751; and
4. S. 3512.

   View Comparison Chart »   

Reports on Coal Ash

Analysis from Earthjustice and its partners have documented the growing public health threat from coal ash:

Report cover
August 2011 State of Failure:
How States Fail To Protect Our Health And Drinking Water From Toxic Coal Ash

An exhaustive review of state regulations in 37 states, which together comprise over 98% of all coal ash generated nationally.

Report cover
February 2011 EPA's Blind Spot:
Hexavalent Chromium
in Coal Ash

Leaking coal ash sites across the country are documented sites for hexavalent chromium—a toxic carcinogen— contamination in groundwater.

   See Complete List of Reports »  

Featured Stories

In this episode of the podcast Down to Earth, Dr. Alan H. Lockwood discusses coal’s dirty characteristics and why cleaning up air pollutants could result in trillions of dollars of health-related benefits in the United States.
The nation’s worst coal ash spill was scooped up from a prosperous community and dumped across state lines into the lives of a low-income community.
The Moapa River Indian Reservation sits about 30 miles north of Las Vegas and about 300 yards from the coal ash ponds and landfills of the Reid Gardner Power Station. If the conditions are just wrong, coal ash picks up from Reid Gardner and moves across the desert like a toxic sandstorm.
If the EPA had complied with the 1985 Superfund mandate, the chemical spill in West Virginia may never have occurred and Freedom Industries would be guaranteed to have the resources to clean up the mess
The community surrounding the Labadie power plant in Missouri has been exposed to 40 years of coal ash pollution.
Every year in Michigan coal plants produce more than 1.7 million tons of coal ash. In addition to the threats posed by unchecked coal ash storage sites, “beneficial reuse” provisions of Michigan law allow for coal ash to be used in trenches as construction fill or spread on agricultural fields.
How is coal ash dumped at one site hazardous, but beneficial at another? The Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment has poisoned nearby waters with arsenic, selenium, boron and more. Residents tell of murky sludge oozing from the ground around their homes.
Officially (but ironically) titled “Stop the War on Coal Act,” H.R. 3409 actually represents the House leadership’s own elaborate and well-funded war on longstanding protections of clean air and water enjoyed by all Americans.
Each year millions of gallons of toxic chemicals flow into lakes, streams, rivers and bays from our nation’s “surface impoundments”—often referred to as “coal ash” ponds. The well-documented result is the death and mutation of fish and wildlife. Recently, two senior scientists examined the damage from those ponds and put a price on their immense harm.
Take Action! It's unbelievable. What do most coal plants do once they scrub down their smokestacks and collect all the coal ash toxic pollutants that didn't escape into the air? They dump it into open, unlined, and unmonitored pits.
Across the country, communities near retiring coal plants are breathing collective sighs of relief. Closures, however, raise vexing questions about the millions of tons of toxic waste that may lie beneath the surface.
Lynn and Jean Gibson speak about living near a coal ash dump—just 200 yards behind their home—in Benton County, TN. The video, TVA at the Crossroads, is a first-hand look at what happens when coal ash leaks into groundwater.
Bokoshe, Oklahoma is a small town carrying a heavy toxic burden. The nearby AES Shady Point power plant dumps its toxic coal ash waste into a mine pit on the outskirts of town. Local residents have developed cancer, asthma and other illnesses, and many point to the coal ash dump as the cause. The mine is owned by a company called “Making Money Having Fun LLC.”
In West Virginia, Rep. David McKinley’s constituents live in the shadow of First Energy’s behemoth 1,000-acre Little Blue Run coal ash waste dump. They continue to speak the truth amid lies flaunted by corporate interests.
These days in Alaska it’s difficult to tell which hills are natural and which are just massive piles of mine tailings and waste. Along with the coal rush that fueled and heated the gold rush came millions of tons of coal ash.
From South Carolina to Alabama and all across the country, coal ash—which can leach dangerous toxic chemicals like arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, and selenium into groundwater—is often stockpiled in low-income communities.
In the Dominican Republic, Virginia-based power giant AES Corporation dumped an estimated 80,000 tons of coal ash along beaches in the port towns of Arroyo Barill and Manzanillo. The toxic ash sat on the beaches, blowing into a nearby village.
Hexavalent chromium and coal ash share a headline again in an article detailing the results of a study that found hexavalent chromium in 13 of 16 drinking water wells used by residents of Madison. The sources of Madison’s hexavelent chromium water tainting include lumber yards, gas stations, auto body shops—and coal ash landfills.
In its zeal to avoid spending millions on clean up, J.R. Simplot Company, owner of several phosphate mines, comes close to arguing that two heads are better than one. Selenium pollution, caused by Simplot’s mining, resulted in fish deformities including two-headed trout. Despite obvious harm caused by the high selenium levels, Simplot argues that these fish can live with more.
The Progress Energy plant in Asheville, NC operates two of the nation's tallest high-hazard coal ash ponds. “High-hazard” means that if either of the pond’s decades-old earthen dams were to break, loss of life would be likely. In Asheville, such a break would completely swamp the French Broad River and Interstate 26.
Without environmental standards for protection from the toxic waste known as coal ash, residents of Perry County, AL had little recourse but to file a civil rights complaint alleging discrimination against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), citing them in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The vast majority of Maryland's electric power is produced at coal-fired power plants across the state. Maryland is home to multiple coal combustion waste sites that have contaminated drinking water wells and polluted surface waters and the environment with arsenic, cadmium and other toxic pollutants.
Missouri has had the dubious distinction of being one of the 12 worst states when it comes to coal ash regulations. Residents of Labadie, MO have justifiably come together to oppose a new 400-acre coal ash landfill at a site where an existing pond has been leaking—for nearly two decades.
On Dec. 22, 2008, residents all along the Emory River in Tennessee woke up to the tragedy of one billion gallons of toxic coal ash that spilled from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant.
Coal ash is like dirt? Myth. Over 40% of coal ash is currently safely recycled? Myth. Learn the facts behind these and other myths the utility industry wants you to believe. These are seven facts about coal ash that you need to know.
Weekly blog posts discussing the dangers of coal ash. Although the EPA’s proposed coal ash rule was published in 2010, a final rule is nowhere in sight. Three years is more than enough time for the EPA to decide on a set of reasonable, health-protective standards for the country’s second largest industrial waste stream.
What if EPA’s coal ash rule doesn’t close unlined lagoons? Wet dumping is the cheapest way, in the short-term, to dispose of toxic coal ash—but it is also the most dangerous.
What if EPA’s coal ash rule doesn’t close unlined lagoons? Wet dumping is the cheapest way, in the short-term, to dispose of toxic coal ash—but it is also the most dangerous.