May 3, 2023
Toxic Coal Ash in Colorado: 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. Colorado has 38 coal ash dumpsites.
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 Colorado communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
Colorado utilities operate 19 federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills containing more than 26 million cubic yards of toxic waste at eight power plants.
At every Colorado coal ash dumpsite that has been evaluated, coal ash has caused significant groundwater contamination.
Some of these dumps are contaminating water at more than 20-30 times the permitted levels of certain pollutants, and one of them — Comanche Generating Station — has been required to pay EPA penalties for improper disposal of coal ash waste.
Three Colorado plants are in the top 50 most-contaminated ash sites in the nation.
Despite the serious and widespread water contamination, no Colorado company to date has initiated a plant-wide cleanup to restore groundwater, despite the legal requirement to do so.
|Cherokee||Denver||Xcel Energy||4 unlined ponds||Boron (x2), Lithium (x3), Molybdenum (x1), Sulfate (x3)|
|Clear Spring Ranch||Fountain||Colorado Springs Utilities||1 landfill||Boron (x2), Selenium (x4)|
|Comanche||Pueblo||Xcel Energy||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Not evaluated|
|Hayden||Hayden||Xcel Energy||1 landfill||Boron (x27), Cobalt (x1), Molybdenum (x34), Sulfate (x27)|
|Nucla||Nucla||Tri-State Generation and Transmission Assoc.||1 landfill||Arsenic (x3), Fluoride (x1), Lithium (x83), Molybdenum (x1), Sulfate (x4)|
|Pawnee||Brush||Xcel Energy||2 lined ponds, 1 landfill||Lithium (x4), Sulfate (x10)|
|Rawhide||Wellington||Platte River Power Authority||2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Boron (x1), Cobalt (x2), Lithium (x14), Molybdenum (x1), Selenium (x2), Sulfate (x8), Thallium (x1)|
|Valmont||Boulder||Xcel Energy||3 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x2), Boron (x9), Cobalt (x4), Lead (x1), Lithium (x6), Mercury (x13), Molybdenum (x6), Selenium (x58), Sulfate (x11), Thallium (x2)|
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.