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Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives
What is coal ash?
Coal ash is what is left behind when power plants burn coal for energy; it is a toxic mix of carcinogens, neurotoxins, and other hazardous pollutants.
An introduction to the serious threats to human health and the environment, particularly to water resources and clean air, posed by coal ash.
Coal Ash Contaminates Our Water
For decades, utilities disposed of coal ash by dumping it in unlined ponds, landfills and mines where the toxic pollution leaks into groundwater. Industry’s own data indicate that across the country, 91% of coal plants are currently contaminating groundwater above federal safe drinking water standards.
Learn about federally regulated coal ash landfills and surface impoundments (ponds) in 31 states and Puerto Rico — and the many coal ash dumps not yet regulated by the 2015 Coal Ash Rule.
New analysis reveals more than 100 power plants dumped coal ash into ponds that are dangerously close to or totally submerged in drinking water sources.
Coal Ash Contaminates Our Health
Coal ash contains hazardous pollutants including arsenic, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, radium, selenium, and other heavy metals, which have been linked to cancer, heart and thyroid disease, reproductive failure, and neurological harm.
The most widespread known drinking water contamination occurred in Town of Pines, Ind., from a leaking landfill and coal ash used as “fill” throughout the town.
The release of bioaccumulative toxic pollutants from coal ash has caused fish kills, deformities in fish and amphibians, and health hazards to people consuming contaminated fish.
Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Tennessee
Fighting Against Coal Ash
Coal ash remains one of our nation’s largest toxic industrial waste streams, U.S. coal plants continue to produce approximately 70 million tons of coal ash every year.
2015 EPA Coal Ash Rule & Legacy Sites
In 2015, EPA adopted its first-ever safeguards to protect people from toxic coal ash to settle a 2012 lawsuit brought by Earthjustice. But the Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule failed to regulate approximately half of all coal ash in the U.S. — more than a billion tons — stored in legacy coal ash ponds and landfills.
At many of these legacy sites, EPA determined that coal ash has contaminated groundwater, but did not require monitoring, closure, or cleanup. The exempted coal ash ponds and landfills are sited disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color.
In 2023, EPA agreed to revise the rule.
Based on analysis of industry data, Earthjustice identified 573 landfills and ponds at 245 coal plants in 40 states that were excluded from EPA’s 2015 Coal Ash Rule.
Nearly a decade after EPA established the first-ever protective requirements for coal ash disposal, progress to clean up contaminated groundwater and safely close dangerous coal ash ponds is dismal.