May 3, 2023
Toxic Coal Ash in Iowa: 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. Iowa has 61 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 Iowa communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
40 Regulated Coal Ash Disposal Sites in Iowa
Iowa utilities operate 40 federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills containing more than 18 million cubic yards of toxic waste at 12 facilities.
Coal ash has caused groundwater contamination at all of Iowa’s regulated dumpsites. Some of these dumps are contaminating water at more than 20 times the safe levels of certain pollutants.
Despite the serious and widespread water contamination, no Iowa company, to date, has initiated a plant-wide cleanup to restore groundwater, despite the legal requirement to do so.
|Ames Electric Services||Ames||City of Ames||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Molybdenum (x2), Sulfate (x2)|
|Burlington||Burlington||Interstate Power and Light Co.||4 unlined ponds||Arsenic (x8), Boron (x14), Lithium (x1), Molybdenum (x7), Sulfate (x1)|
|Lansing||Lansing||Interstate Power and Light Co.||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x4), Boron (x2), Molybdenum (x1)|
|Louisa||Muscatine||MidAmerican Energy Co.||1 unlined pond, 2 landfills||Molybdenum (x1), Sulfate (x1)|
|Milton L. Kapp||Clinton||Interstate Power and Light Co.||1 unlined pond||Molybdenum (x23), Sulfate (x1)|
|Muscatine Power & Water CCR Landfill||Muscatine||Muscatine Power and Water||1 landfill||Barium (x22), Boron (x10), Sulfate (x2), Thallium (x1)|
|George Neal North||Sergeant Bluff||MidAmerican Energy Co.||4 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x8), Boron (x1), Cobalt (x1), Lithium (x6), Molybdenum (x3), Selenium (x5), Sulfate (x2)|
|George Neal South||Salix||MidAmerican Energy Co.||1 landfill||Arsenic (x5), Boron (x2), Cobalt (x1)|
|Ottumwa||Ottumwa||Interstate Power and Light Co.||2 unlined ponds, 2 landfills||Cobalt (x3), Sulfate (x2)|
|Prairie Creek||Cedar Rapids||Interstate Power and Light Co.||8 unlined ponds, 2 landfills||Arsenic (x14), Boron (x3), Molybdenum (x7)|
|Sutherland||Marshalltown||Interstate Power and Light Co.||4 unlined ponds||Arsenic (x1), Boron (x1), Sulfate (x1)|
|Walter Scott Jr.||Council Bluffs||MidAmerican Energy Co.||2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill||Arsenic (x34), Boron (x2), Lithium (x4), Molybdenum (x2), Sulfate (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 Iowa, see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.
21 Unregulated Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in Iowa (ash dumps exempted from the 2015 Coal Ash Rule)
In addition, Iowa hosts at least 21 unregulated inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds that escape federal regulation. The exact number remains unknown because utilities are not required to report these sites.
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.
|Dubuque||Dubuque||Interstate Power and Light Co.||1||0||Unknown|
|Earl F. Wisdom||Spencer||Corn Belt Power Coop||0||1||Unknown|
|Fair Station||Montpelier||Central Iowa Power Coop||2||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|George Neal North||Sergeant Bluff||MidAmerican Energy Co.||0||5||Yes – EPA damage case and industry data*|
|Lansing||Lansing||Interstate Power and Light Co.||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case and industry data*|
|Riverside||Bettendorf||MidAmerican Energy Co.||3||0||Unknown|
|Sixth Street||Cedar Rapids||City of Holland||4||0||Unknown|
|Streeter Station||Cedar Falls||Cedar Falls Utilities||0||1||Unknown|
|Sutherland||Marshalltown||Interstate Power and Light Co.||0||2||Yes – Industry data*|
* Data derived from the utilities’ publicly accessible CCR Compliance Data and Information websites, and exceedances were calculated by Environmental Integrity Project.
The two inactive landfills at Sutherland are located offsite and are named Marshalltown East and West landfills.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Evans, Senior Counsel, Earthjustice, email@example.com.
More on Coal Ash in Iowa
Coal Ash in States, Territories, Regions
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