Toxic Coal Ash in Indiana: 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. Indiana has 100 coal ash dumpsites, the largest number of coal ash dumps in any state.

One of the nation’s top coal ash-generating states, Indiana ranked second in ash production in 2020.

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.

A marching band rehearses on a basketball court in a park, with the cooling tower at the Michigan City Generating Station looming above them in Michigan City, Indiana.
Cooling tower at the Michigan City Generating Station, Michigan City, Indiana. (Just Transition NWI)

Action Needed

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 Indiana communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
Coal ash dump sites across the United States. Use this map to understand where coal ash might be stored near you and how a given site may be impacted by EPA's expansion of the federal Coal Ash Rule. (Caroline Weinberg / Earthjustice)

51 Regulated Coal Ash Disposal Sites in Indiana that Industry Acknowledges are Federally Regulated

Indiana has the most remaining operational coal plant units in the U.S. and some of the most contaminated coal ash sites.

Indiana utilities operate 51 federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills containing more than 73.4 million cubic yards of toxic waste at 16 coal plants.

At all plants, groundwater is contaminated above federal safety standards, and the majority of Indiana coal plants rank in the top 25% of contaminated sites.

Despite significant water contamination, no Indiana plant to date has selected a final plan to clean up groundwater, as required by state and federal law.

AB Brown Mount Vernon Vectren 1 unlined pond, 1 lined pond, 1 landfill Arsenic (x2), Boron (x7), Cobalt (x1), Lithium (x2), Molybdenum (x38), Sulfate (x28), Thallium (x1)
Bailly Chesterton NIPSCO 4 unlined ponds Arsenic (x8), Cadmium (x2), Lithium (x2), Molybdenum (x16), Thallium (x5)
Cayuga* Cayuga Duke Energy 3 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x5), Boron (x5), Cobalt (x4), Lead (x4), Lithium (x11), Molybdenum (x45), Sulfate (x2)
Clifty Creek Madison Indiana-KY Electric Coop 2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x7), Boron (x5), Lithium (x14), Molybdenum (x64), Sulfate (x2)
Eagle Valley* Martinsville IPL 3 unlined ponds Arsenic (x9), Boron (x4), Lithium (x3), Molybdenum (x6)
FB Culley Newburgh Vectren 2 unlined ponds Arsenic (x9), Boron (x27), Cobalt (x1), Lithium (x6), Molybdenum (x24), Sulfate (x3)
Gallagher* New Albany Duke Energy 3 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x6), Boron (x11), Cobalt (x2), Lithium (x1), Molybdenum (x31), Sulfate (x1)
Gibson* Owensville Duke Energy 4 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x10), Boron (x22), Cobalt (x3), Lithium (x24), Molybdenum (x35), Selenium (x2), Sulfate (x3)
Harding St.* Indianapolis IPL 4 unlined ponds Antimony (x2), Arsenic (x45), Boron (x21), Lithium (x13), Molybdenum (x18), Sulfate (x3)
Merom Sullivan Hallador Energy Company 1 landfill Fluoride (x1)
Michigan City* Michigan City NIPSCO 2 unlined ponds Arsenic (x4), Boron (x2), Selenium (x1), Thallium (x2)
Petersburg* Petersburg IPL 3 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x6), Beryllium (x1), Boron (x18), Cadmium (x2), Cobalt (x65), Lithium (x51), Molybdenum (x64), Sulfate (x2), Thallium (x13)
RM Schahfer Wheatfield NIPSCO 4 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x6), Boron (x17), Cobalt (x6), Fluoride (x10), Lithium (x7), Molybdenum (x76), Radium 226+228 (x2), Sulfate (x15)
Rockport Rockport AEP 1 unlined pond, 1 landfill Arsenic (x2), Boron (x13)
Wabash* Terre Haute Duke 4 unlined ponds Arsenic (x2), Boron (x25), Cobalt (x3), Lead (x1), Lithium (x5), Molybdenum (x39), Sulfate x3
Whitewater Valley Richmond Richmond P& L 1 unlined pond Mercury (x6), Molybdenum (x3)

* These plants operate inactive coal ash ponds at the facility but have not reported the ponds in their CCR Rule Compliance Data and Information website nor have the owners complied with the CCR rule’s requirements that apply to these ponds, including groundwater monitoring, closure, and corrective action.

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 Indiana, see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.

49 Unregulated Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in Indiana for which Federal Regulations Have Not Yet Been Adopted

In addition, Indiana hosts at least 49 unregulated inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds that escape federal regulation. The exact number is unknown because utilities are not required to report these unregulated dumps.

At most of these sites, EPA has already determined that coal ash has contaminated groundwater, but there are no federal monitoring or cleanup requirements.

These dumps are almost certainly contaminating water and threatening health and the environment; however, monitoring data are not currently available for most unregulated 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 — as often occurred in Indiana.

Bailly Chesterton NIPSCO 0 2 Yes – EPA damage case
Breed Fairbanks Twp Indiana & MI Power Co 0 1 Unknown
Clifty Creek Madison Indiana-KY Electric Coop 0 1 Yes—EPA damage case
Dean H Mitchell Gary NIPSCO 8 0 Unknown
Edwardsport Edwardsport Duke Energy 2 1 Unknown
Frank E Ratts Petersburg Hoosier Energy R E C, Inc 8 2 Unknown
Gibson Owensville Duke Energy 0 1 Yes – EPA damage case
Merom Sullivan Hallador Energy Company 0 2 Yes – EPA damage case
Michigan City Michigan City NIPSCO 0 1 Yes – EPA damage case
Noblesville Hamilton Co Duke Energy 0 1 Unknown
Gallagher New Albany Duke Energy 0 11* Yes – Industry data
State Line Energy Hammond State Line Energy LLC 1 0 Unknown – no data
Tanners Creek Lawrenceburg Tanners Creek Development LLC 5 1 Yes – in litigation
Warrick Newburgh So Indiana Gas & Elec. Co 1 0 Unknown – no data

* In EPA’s 2010 Steam Electric Questionnaire, Duke identified 12 landfills at Gallagher, one of which aligns with the regulated unit, and provided no information on location or size of the other 11 units.

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.

Earthjustice fights in the courts for a long-term solution to the toxic menace of coal ash. And we act on behalf of dozens of clients and over 100 coalition partners to defeat legislative attempts to subvert federally enforceable safeguards of coal ash.

Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program uses the power of the law and the strength of partnership to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.