May 3, 2023
Toxic Coal Ash in Maryland: 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. Maryland has 21 coal ash dumpsites, 18 of which are unregulated.
Maryland’s legacy of harm from coal ash includes the poisoning of drinking water with heavy metals in Gambrills, MD, an environmental justice community.
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 Maryland communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
Three Regulated Coal Ash Landfills in Maryland
Maryland utilities currently operate three federally regulated coal ash landfills that contain more than 6.1 million cubic yards (12.2 billion pounds) of toxic waste.
One of the three dumps, the Brandywine Ash Management Facility, located 19 miles southeast of Washington, D.C., is the seventh most contaminated coal ash site in the nation.
The site contaminates groundwater with unsafe levels of eight pollutants, including lithium at more than 200 times recommended levels, and molybdenum (which may damage the liver and kidneys) at more than 100 times recommended levels.
The Maryland utilities that own the dumps have yet to initiate any cleanups to restore water resources despite the legal requirement to do so.
|Brandywine Ash Management Facility||Aquasco||GenOn||1 landfill (1.4 million cubic yards)||Arsenic (x5), Beryllium (x2), Boron (x29), Cobalt (x47), Lithium (x222), Molybdenum (x111), Selenium (x9), Sulfate (x11)|
|Fort Armistead Road||Baltimore||Talen||1 landfill (903,400 cubic yards)||No data on constituents exceeding standards|
|Westland Ash Mgmt||Dickerson||GenOn||1 landfill (>3.8 million cubic yds)||Boron (x5), Lithium (x21), Molybdenum (x30), Selenium (x6), 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 Maryland, see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.
18 Unregulated Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in Maryland (ash dumps exempted from the 2015 Coal Ash Rule)
In addition, Maryland hosts at least 18 unregulated inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds that escape federal regulation.
One, the “unregulated” portion of the Brandywine facility, is 190 acres and contains nearly 8 million tons of ash. It is estimated that these unregulated landfills contain about 20–25 million tons of coal ash.
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.
|Brandywine Ash Management Facility||Aquasco||GenOn||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|AES Warrior Run Cogen Facility||Cumberland||AES WR Ltd||1||0||Unknown – no data|
|CP Crane||Bowley’s quarters||Baltimore Gas & Electric||0||1||Unknown – no data|
|Cumberland Site 1*||Allegany County||Cumberland Power Plant||0||1||Unknown – no data|
|Cumberland Site 2*||Allegany County||Cumberland Power Plant||0||1||Unknown – no data|
|Joppa Sand and Gravel Site*||Harford Co||Wagner Power Plant||0||1||Unknown – no data|
|Morgantown||Newburg||GenOn Mid-Atlantic||0||2||Yes – EPA damage case|
|R Paul Smith Power Station||Williamsport||Allegheny Energy Supply||2||1||Unknown – no data|
|Riverside Site*||Baltimore Co.||Riverside Power Plant||0||1||Unknown – no data|
|Rossville Industrial Park*||Baltimore City||Baltimore Gas & Electric||0||1||Unknown – no data|
|Turner Pit (West)*||Anne Arundel Co.||Brandon Shores & Wagner||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Vienna Site 2*||Dorchester Co||Vienna Power plant||1||0||Unknown – no data|
|Waugh Chapel Pit*||Anne Arundel Co||Brandon Shores & Wagner||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
|Westport Site 1*||Baltimore City||Westport power||0||1||Unknown – no data|
|Westport Site 2*||Baltimore City||Westport power||0||1||Unknown – no data|
* Data on these unregulated landfills are found in Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Coal Combustion By-Product Storage, Use, and Disposal Sites in Maryland (Aug 2019).
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 Maryland
- Poisonous Coverup: The Widespread Failure of the Power Industry to Clean Up Coal Ash Dumps (November 3, 2022)
- Tr-Ash Talk: Coal Ash Dirtying Maryland’s Waters (February 9, 2011)
Coal Ash in States, Territories, Regions
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.