May 3, 2023
Toxic Coal Ash in Georgia: 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. Georgia has 43 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 Georgia communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
24 Regulated Coal Ash Disposal Sites in Georgia
Georgia utilities operate 24 federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills containing nearly 87 million cubic yards of toxic waste at nine coal plants.
At all but one Georgia plants, industry monitoring data indicate that groundwater is contaminated above federal and state safe standards.
Despite the serious water contamination, no Georgia plant, to date, has selected a final plan to clean up groundwater, as required by state and federal law.
|Plant Bowen||Cartersville||GA Power||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Antimony (x1), Arsenic (x2), Boron (x16), Cobalt (x3), Molybdenum (x3), Radium 226+228 (x1), Sulfate (x2)|
|Plant Crisp||Warwick||GA Power||1 unlined pond||No monitored contaminants currently exceeding federal standards|
|Plant Hammond||Rome||GA Power||3 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x38), Beryllium (x1), Boron (x10), Cobalt (x30), Fluoride (x2), Lithium (x5), Molybdenum (x12), Sulfate (x3)|
|Plant McDonough||Smyrna||GA Power||4 unlined ponds||Arsenic (x49), Beryllium (x6), Boron (x4), Cadmium (x1), Cobalt (x127), Lithium (x3), Molybdenum (x5), Radium 226+228 (x1), Selenium (x2), Sulfate (x2)|
|Plant McIntosh||Ricncon||GA Power||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Boron (x2), Cobalt (x2), Lithium (x3), Selenium (x4)|
|Plant McManus||Brunswick||GA Power||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x31), Boron (x1), Lithium (x2), Sulfate (x1)|
|Plant Scherer||Juliette||GA Power||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Boron (x2), Cobalt (x45), Sulfate (x1)|
|Plant Wansley||Roopville||GA Power||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Boron (x3), Cobalt (x24), Lithium (x1), Radium 226+228 (x1), Sulfate (x1)|
|Plant Yates||Newman||GA Power||6 unlined ponds||Boron (x3), Cobalt (x24), Lithium (x1), Radium 226+228 (x1), Sulfate (x1)|
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 Georgia, see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.
19 Unregulated Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in Georgia (ash dumps exempted from the 2015 Coal Ash Rule)
In addition, there are at least 19 inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds at seven coal plant sites in Georgia that escape federal regulation but are subject to Georgia’s state law analogous to the federal rule, including the closure performance standards that prohibit disposal in contact with groundwater.
At several of these sites, EPA and/or the utility itself has already determined that coal ash has contaminated groundwater, but despite Georgia’s purported regulation of these dumps, none of them have been required to be excavated, except for planned excavation of at least some coal ash ponds at Georgia Power Company’s now shuttered Plant Arkwright near Macon. Groundwater remediation remains lacking at all of these sites.
As we anticipate EPA’s proposed rule on legacy ponds and unregulated landfills in May 2023, a concern remains that the agency will not address coal ash that was dumped off site or used as fill.
|Plant Arkwright||Macon||GA Power||3||1||Yes|
|Plant Bowen||Cartersville||GA Power||0||1||Yes – Industry data and EPA damage case|
|Plant Harlee Branch||Milledgeville||GA Power||5||1||Yes|
|Plant McDonough||Smyrna||GA Power||0||1||Yes – Industry data|
|Plant Kraft||Port Wentworth||GA Power||1||1||Unknown|
|Plant Mitchell||Moundsville||GA Power||3||0||Unknown|
|Plant Yates||Newman||GA Power||0||2||Yes – Industry data|
Plants Arkwright’s and Harlee Branch’s evidence of site contamination: Jennifer Harkness, Barry Sulkin and Avner Vengosh, Evidence for Coal Ash Ponds Leaking in Southeastern United States, Envtl. Science and Tech., (June 10, 2016).
Plants Bowen’s and Yates’ evidence of site contamination from industry data: Industry monitoring data posted on the plants’ CCR Compliance Data and Information website.
Plants McDonough’s and Yates’ evidence of site contamination from industry data: Industry monitoring is the basis of a finding of contamination as described on Ashtracker.
These data were developed by using EPA datasets relied upon in their 2007 and 2014 CCR risk assessments (Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion Residuals) and comparing those datasets to the universe of regulated units.
“EPA damage case” denotes a site where US EPA has found documented groundwater contamination from coal ash.
For More Information
Christine Santillana, Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice, email@example.com
Lisa Evans, Senior Counsel, Earthjustice, firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on Coal Ash in Georgia
Coal Ash in States, Territories, Regions
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