Coal Ash: Reports & Publications
Read reports and analysis from Earthjustice and our partners, which document the growing public health threat from coal ash, the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned.
Reports and analysis from Earthjustice and our partners document the growing public health threat from coal ash, the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned.
Coal Ash Primer
2023 – Coal Ash Primer provides an introduction to the serious threats to human health and the environment posed by coal ash as well as safeguards to minimize contamination. The primer suggests legal strategies to reduce coal ash pollution, prevent spills, and force cleanup of contaminated sites.
- Read the report: Coal Ash Primer
Poisonous Coverup: The Widespread Failure of the Power Industry to Clean Up Coal Ash Dumps
November 2022 – Poisonous Coverup: The Widespread Failure of the Power Industry to Clean Up Coal Ash Dumps, a report released by Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project, finds that some power companies are illegally manipulating data and monitoring systems to avoid cleanup requirements and proposing inadequate cleanup strategies that will not restore groundwater quality.
Seven years after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposed the first federal rules requiring the cleanup of coal ash waste dumps, only about half of the power plants that are contaminating groundwater agree that cleanup is necessary, and 96 percent of these power plants are not proposing any groundwater treatment. Only one plant out of 292 is planning a comprehensive cleanup.
- Read the report: Poisonous Coverup: The Widespread Failure of the Power Industry to Clean Up Coal Ash Dumps
- News Release
Cleaning Up Coal Ash For Good
July 2021 – Cleaning Up Coal Ash For Good, a report released by Earthjustice, provides new evidence demonstrating the importance and benefit to local communities of thorough cleanup of coal ash, rather than leaving it in place where it’s currently dumped.
Economists, environmental engineers, and hydrogeologists studied three coal plants and found “clean closure” of existing coal ash dump sites — in which ash is removed — would result in 2 to 7 times greater positive economic impacts for each community, over a leave-in-place alternative.
- Read the report: Cleaning Up Coal Ash For Good
- News Release
Coal’s Poisonous Legacy: Groundwater Contaminated by Coal Ash Across the U.S.
March 2019, revised July 2019 – Coal’s Poisonous Legacy: Groundwater Contaminated by Coal Ash Across the U.S., a report by Environmental Integrity Project, with assistance by Earthjustice, used industry data that became available to the public for the first time in 2018 because of requirements in federal coal ash regulations issued in 2015.
The study concludes that 91 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants with monitoring data are contaminating groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollutants.
- Read the report: Coal’s Poisonous Legacy: Groundwater Contaminated by Coal Ash Across the U.S.
- News Release
Groundwater Contamination from Texas Coal Ash Dumps
January 2019 – Groundwater Contamination from Texas Coal Ash Dumps, a report written by Environmental Integrity Project, with additional analysis by Earthjustice, reveals that toxic coal ash pollutants are leaking into groundwater surrounding 100 percent of Texas’s power plants for which data are available, with unsafe levels of arsenic, cobalt, lithium, and other pollutants seeping from the ash dumps.
Industry groundwater monitoring data made publicly available for the first time in 2018 thanks to a new requirement in federal coal ash regulations reveal multiple contaminants leaching from 16 of 16 coal-fired power plants in Texas to which the new rules apply.
- Read the report: Groundwater Contamination from Texas Coal Ash Dumps
- News Release
Georgia at a Crossroads: Groundwater Contamination From Coal Ash Threatens the Peach State
November 2018 – Georgia at a Crossroads: Groundwater Contamination From Coal Ash Threatens the Peach State, a report written by Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, finds that toxic coal ash pollutants are leaking into groundwater from 92%of Georgia coal-fired power plants, according to analysis of industry data made available for the first time in 2018.
Eleven of the state’s 12 coal-fired power plants are leaking pollution into the state’s underground water supplies, and 10 of these 11 polluting plants are owned by a single company, Georgia Power.
- Read the report: Georgia at a Crossroads: Groundwater Contamination From Coal Ash Threatens the Peach State
- News Release
Cap and Run: Toxic Coal Ash Left Behind by Big Polluters Threatens Illinois Water
November 2018 – Cap and Run: Toxic Coal Ash Left Behind by Big Polluters Threatens Illinois Water, a report written by Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network, and Sierra Club, reveals widespread pollution of the groundwater surrounding 90 percent of reporting Illinois coal ash dumpsites.
The report is based on industry data made publicly available for the first time, and released in 2018, because of a requirement in federal coal ash regulations. It concludes that 22 of Illinois 24 coal ash dumpsites with available data have released toxic pollutants including arsenic, cobalt, and lithium, into groundwater.
- Read the report: Cap and Run: Toxic Coal Ash Left Behind by Big Polluters
Threatens Illinois Water
- News Release
Groundwater Contamination from Oklahoma Coal Ash Dumps and Noncompliance with the Federal Coal Ash Rule
June 2018 – Analysis by Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice reveals that all of the coal ash dumps containing “coal ash” waste generated by Oklahoma’s coal-fired power plants that tested nearby groundwater found toxic contamination.
The chemicals detected include toxic heavy metals and other substances linked to cancer, neurological damage, and environmental damage. Arsenic, boron, lithium, molybdenum, and radium were among the contaminants found.
According to the analysis, the groundwater fails to meet levels the U.S. EPA deems safe for drinking water at every coal ash dump in the state that performed the required testing.
Selling Our Health Down the River
June 2015 – Selling Our Health Down the River, a report written by Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Clean Water Action, presents evidence that the U.S. EPA has been under-estimating the public health benefits of controlling metals including arsenic and hexavalent chromium (which can increase the risk of cancer), as well as lead and mercury (which can cause brain damage) released by power plants into rivers, streams, and lakes.
While EPA has estimated that controlling these pollutants would provide $14 million to $20 million worth of health benefits per year, a more accurate assessment would likely far exceed $300 million annually, according to the report.
Power plants discharge more than 5.5 billion pounds of pollutants into U.S. waterways every year, contributing to the contamination of more than 23,000 miles of rivers and 185 water bodies whose fish are too toxic to eat.
- Read the report: Selling Our Health Down the River
- News Release
Virginia’s Toxic Coal Ash Problem: The Need to Protect the Health,
Safety and Water of Virginia
May 2015 – Virginia’s Toxic Coal Ash Problem: The Need to Protect the Health, Safety and Water of Virginia is a report written by Virginia Conservation Network, in Partnership with the Virginia League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, Clean Water Action, and Earthjustice.
The report describes the imminent threat from coal ash in Virginia, documents harm from coal ash throughout the Commonwealth, and identifies critical gaps in the state regulatory program. It also provides useful insight into the need to enforce additional cleanup and storage requirements with a side-by-side comparison of three different regulatory options.
- Read the report: Virginia’s Toxic Coal Ash Problem: The Need to Protect the Health, Safety and Water of Virginia
Don’t Drink the Water: Groundwater Contamination and the “Beneficial Reuse” of Coal Ash in Southeast Wisconsin
November 2014 – Clean Wisconsin’s new report, Don’t Drink the Water, demonstrates that coal ash reuse may pose significant public health threats.
The report highlights the risks to residents of southeast Wisconsin, where more than one million tons of toxic coal ash has been used in building projects near drinking water wells. The report documents how dangerous chemicals have made their way into the drinking water of hundreds of Wisconsin citizens.
Though it focuses on Wisconsin, the report highlights a national problem. Use of coal ash as construction fill has caused water contamination at sites across the nation. Each year, more than 20 million tons of coal ash are placed as fill without adequate safeguards to prevent hazardous chemicals from entering our water.
Ash in Lungs: How Breathing Coal Ash is Hazardous to Your Health
July 2014 – Released by Physicians for Social Responsibility and Earthjustice, the report, Ash in Lungs, describes the harmful effects of simply breathing near coal ash disposal sites.
Silica exposure via coal ash (which can lead to silicosis, a scarring of the lung tissue), exposure to radioactive materials present in coal ash dust and exposure to mercury and hydrogen sulfide are all possible when breathing coal ash dust.
Dust from coal ash landfills and uncovered trucks carrying coal ash blows into nearby communities, putting lives at risk. Workers at power plants and coal ash dumpsites are also exposed to these dangerous pollutants. The report highlights six communities poisoned by coal ash dust.
Closing the Floodgates: How The Coal Industry Is Poisoning Our Water And How We Can Stop It
July 2013 – Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of toxic water pollution in the United States based on toxicity, dumping billions of pounds of pollution into America’s rivers, lakes, and streams each year.
The waste from coal plants, also known as coal combustion waste, includes coal ash and sludge from pollution controls called “scrubbers” that are notorious for contaminating ground and surface waters with toxic heavy metals and other pollutants.
These pollutants, including lead and mercury, can be dangerous to humans and wreak havoc in our watersheds even in very small amounts. The toxic metals in this waste do not degrade over time and many bio-accumulate, increasing in concentration as they travel up the food chain, ultimately collecting in our bodies, and the bodies of our children.
State of Failure: How States Fail To Protect Our Health And Drinking Water From Toxic Coal Ash
August 2011 – State of Failure, released by Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, is an exhaustive review of state regulations in 37 states, which together comprise over 98 percent of all coal ash generated nationally.
This study highlights the lack of state-based regulations for coal ash disposal and points to the 12 worst states when it comes to coal ash dumping: Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and Virginia.
EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash
February 2011 – A report by Earthjustice, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Environmental Integrity Project, EPA’s Blind Spot shows that scores of leaking coal ash sites across the country are documented sites for hexavalent chromium contamination in groundwater.
Hexavalent chromium is a highly toxic carcinogen when inhaled, and recent studies from the National Toxicology Program indicate that when leaked into drinking water, it also can cause cancer.
Re-evaluation of Estimates in U.S. EPA Regulatory Impact Analysis
December 2010 – According to this review conducted by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center (based at Tufts University), the EPA’s claim that coal ash recycling is worth more than $23 billion a year is more than 20 times higher than the $1.15 billion that the U.S. government’s own data shows is the correct bottom-line number.
Coal Ash: The Toxic Threat to Our Health and Environment
September 2010 – Water and air in 34 states are being poisoned by the waste of coal-fired power plants—creating major health risks for children and adults—according to the report, Coal Ash: The Toxic Threat, released by Earthjustice and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The ground-breaking study connects the contamination occurring at hundreds of coal ash dumps and waste ponds across the country to health threats such as cancer, nerve damage and impairment of a child’s ability to write, read and learn.
In Harm’s Way: Lack of Federal Coal Ash Regulations Endangers Americans and their Environment
August 2010 – In Harm’s Way identified additional coal ash dump sites in 21 states that are contaminating drinking water or surface water with arsenic and other heavy metals.
The report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club documents the fact that state governments are not adequately monitoring the coal combustion waste disposal sites and that the EPA needs to enact strong new regulations to protect the public.
Failing the Test: Unintended Consequences of Controlling HAPs from Coal Plants
May 2010 – In December 2009, the EPA produced a report examining the fate of pollution captured in smokestacks at coal-fired power pants. The report was quietly posted to the EPA’s website, but offered groundbreaking results.
The new testing method by the EPA’s Office of Research and Development revealed that pollutants such as arsenic, antimony, chromium and selenium, can leach from coal ash at levels dozens and sometimes hundreds of times greater than the federal drinking water standard. Failing the Test summarizes the EPA’s findings.
Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites
February 2010 – This major report by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project identified 31 additional coal ash contamination sites in 14 states, with data showing arsenic and other toxic metal levels in contaminated water at some coal ash disposal sites at up to 145 times federally permissible levels.
Waste Deep: Filling Mines with Ash is Profit for Industry, But Poison for People
January 2009 – Released in the wake of coal ash disasters at two Tennessee Valley Authority power plants, Waste Deep documents the unseen threat posed by toxic coal ash dumped in active and abandoned coal mines.
The report casts a spotlight on minefilling, the practice of dumping coal ash into active and abandoned coal mines. This unregulated disposal method has poisoned streams and drinking water supplies across the country with arsenic, lead, chromium, selenium, and other toxins.
Coming Clean: What the EPA Knows About the Dangers of Coal Ash
January 2009 –New analysis of data by the EPA shows that those who live near coal ash dumps face elevated cancer risks.
This report, by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, analyzes the EPA data—buried for years by the Bush administration—finding that residents who live near coal ash waste ponds have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated by arsenic, one of the most common, and most dangerous, pollutants from coal ash.
- Read the report: Coming Clean
- Attachment 1: Surface Impoundments Analyzed
- Attachment 2: Landfills Analyzed
- Attachment 3: Data Reported to EIA
- Blacked Out EPA Document
- Press Release
Impacts on Water Quality from Placement of Coal Combustion Waste in Pennsylvania Coal Mines
September 2007 – Disposing of coal ash in mines is contaminating water supplies throughout Pennsylvania, according to a report released by Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice. In 10 of 15 mines examined across the state, groundwater and streams near areas where coal ash, or coal combustion waste, was placed had levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and selenium and other pollutants above safe standards
CATF and Earthjustice, in coordination with professional geologists and water quality experts, found that a lack of safeguards to keep coal ash out of water, inadequate monitoring and no cleanup standards has led to unaddressed contamination in two-thirds of the mines studied.