May 3, 2023
Toxic Coal Ash in Alabama: Addressing Coal Plants’ Hazardous Legacy
For decades, utilities disposed of coal ash – the hazardous substance left after burning coal for energy – by dumping it in unlined ponds and landfills. Alabama has 32 coal ash dumpsites.
Alabama is one of the nation’s top coal ash-generating states, ranking ninth in ash production in 2005.
Coal ash contains hazardous pollutants including arsenic, boron, cobalt, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, radium, selenium, and other heavy metals, which have been linked to cancer, heart and thyroid disease, reproductive failure, and neurological harm.
Industry’s own data indicate that across the country 91% of coal plants are currently polluting groundwater above federal health standards with toxic pollutants.
Coal ash remains one of our nation’s largest toxic industrial waste streams. U.S. coal plants continue to produce approximately 70 million tons every year.
Despite EPA’s 2015 Coal Ash Rule, which created the first-ever safeguards for coal ash disposal, many coal ash dumps remain unregulated due to sweeping exemptions for legacy coal ash ponds and inactive landfills.
The exempted coal ash dumps are sited disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color. The EPA issued a proposed rule to address most of these exemptions on May 17, 2023.
The magnitude of harm from recklessly dumped toxic coal ash requires decisive action from federal and state regulators.
- Utilities must be required to comply with the law and immediately clean up their pollution.
- EPA and states must make enforcement a priority and act quickly to ensure that utilities leave communities with sites that benefit rather than harm their health, environment, and economic status.
- EPA must swiftly strengthen the Coal Ash Rule to address the many legacy ponds and inactive landfills that are unregulated, and to prohibit coal ash used as fill unless protective measures are put in place, to ensure all Alabama communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
Alabama utilities operate 16 federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills at eight plants that contain more than 118 million cubic yards of toxic waste.
Coal ash has caused significant groundwater contamination at all of Alabama’s regulated dumpsites. In fact, five of the state’s eight power plants rank among the top 25% of the most contaminated coal ash sites.
Alabama utilities, however, have failed to initiate any plant-wide cleanups to restore water resources despite the legal requirement to do so.
In addition, Alabama Power is planning to close in place unlined coal ash impoundments with ash in contact with groundwater, which is prohibited by the federal rule and which would ensure continued contamination at those sites.
|Charles Lowman||Leroy||Power South Energy Coop||3 unlined ponds||Arsenic (x14), Beryllium (x1), Boron (x6), Cobalt (x156), Lithium (x4), Molybdenum (x5), Sulfate (x2)|
|Colbert||Tuscumbia||Tennessee Valley Authority||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x4), Boron (x2), Cobalt (x4)|
|EC Gaston||Wilsonville||Alabama Power||1 unlined pond, 1 lined pond||Arsenic (x2), Boron (x2), Cobalt (x1), Lithium (x14), Molybdenum (x54), Radium 226+228 (x3), Sulfate (x1)|
|James Miller||Quinton||Alabama Power||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x1), Boron (x2), Cobalt (x12), Lithium (x6), Molybdenum (x3), Sulfate (x3)|
|James Barry||Bucks||Alabama Power||1 unlined pond, 1 lined pond||Arsenic (x7), Boron (x1), Cobalt (x5)|
|Plant Gadsden||Gadsden||Alabama Power||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x82), Cobalt (x9), Lithium (x2), Sulfate (x1)|
|Plant Greene||Demopolis||Alabama Power||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x40), Boron (x1), Cobalt (x12), Lithium (x16), Molybdenum (x3), Sulfate (x2)|
|William Gorgas||Parrish||Alabama Power||2 unlined ponds, 3 landfills||Arsenic (x20), Boron (x7), Cobalt (x72), Lithium (x11), Molybdenum (x4), Sulfate (x6)|
All data on groundwater contamination from coal ash derived from the utilities’ publicly accessible CCR Compliance Data and Information websites, and exceedances were calculated by Environmental Integrity Project.
For more information on regulated coal ash sites in Alabama and throughout the U.S., see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.