Toxic Coal Ash in Missouri: 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. Missouri has 60 coal ash dumpsites.

Missouri is one of the nation’s top coal ash-generating states, ranking fourth in ash production in 2020.

After years of litigation and grassroots activism, on Apr. 25, 2024, the EPA issued a new rule that will force power plants to finally clean up their toxic coal ash. The EPA extended federal monitoring and cleanup requirements to hundreds of previously excluded older coal ash landfills and ponds that have been leaking toxic pollution into groundwater.

Note: Coal ash dumpsites referenced as “unregulated” throughout this page now are likely subject to federal regulation under the final rulemaking.

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. In 2023, the EPA acknowledged that coal ash is even more dangerous than previously thought, with levels of arsenic and radiation that pose cancer risks.

Industry’s own data indicate that across the country 91% of coal plants are currently polluting groundwater above federal health standards with toxic pollutants.

Despite EPA’s 2015 Coal Ash Rule, which created the first-ever safeguards for coal ash disposal, many coal ash dumps remained 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 extended clean up requirements to hundreds of old coal ash dumps across the country when it issued new regulations in the spring of 2024.

In the early hours, a coal train empties its load. Traveling from Gillette, Wyoming, to New Madrid, Missouri, a one-week journey delivering 15,000 tons of coal, enough to keep this massive plant operating for one day.
The New Madrid coal plant in Missouri in 2009. (Larry Braun / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Coal ash remains one of our nation’s largest toxic industrial waste streams. U.S. coal plants continue to produce approximately 75 million tons every year.

In 2023, the EPA acknowledged widespread noncompliance with existing coal ash regulations and ramped up enforcement after designating coal ash a national enforcement priority.

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 act quickly to ensure that utilities leave communities with sites that benefit rather than harm their health, environment, and economic status.
  • EPA must take action to prohibit the use of coal ash as construction fill and make polluters clean up areas where ash was used as fill.
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)

43 Regulated Coal Ash Disposal Sites in Missouri

Missouri utilities operate 43 federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills at 16 plants that contain more than 73.4 million cubic yards of toxic waste.

Coal ash has caused significant groundwater contamination at all of the state’s regulated dumpsites.

Missouri utilities, however, have failed to restore water resources despite the legal requirement to do so.

Ashbury Ashbury Empire District Electric Co 1 unlined pond Boron (x26), Cobalt (x2), Lithium (x8), Sulfate (x4)
Blue Valley Independence City of Independence 3 unlined ponds Not evaluated
Columbia Muni Columbia City of Columbia 1 unlined pond Boron (x1), Sulfate (x1), Thallium (x2)
Iatan Weston Evergy 1 unlined pond, 1 landfill Arsenic (x2), Boron (x1), Cadmium (x2), Lithium (x1), Molybdenum (x2)
James River Springfield City Utilities of Springfield 2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill No contaminants exceeding
John Twitty Springfield City Utilities of Springfield 2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Antimony (x1)
Labadie Labadie Ameren 2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x4), Boron (x8), Lithium (x1), Molybdenum (x14)
Meramec St. Louis Ameren 5 unlined ponds Arsenic (x2), Boron (x13), Lithium (x4), Molybdenum (x11), Sulfate (x2)
Missouri City Missouri City City of Independence 1 unlined pond Molybdenum*
Montrose Clinton Evergy 2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x1), Boron (x4), Cobalt (x18), Thallium (x1)
New Madrid New Madrid Associated Electric Coop 3 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x2), Boron (x10), Cobalt (x1), Lead (x1), Molybdenum (x76)
Rush Island Festus Ameren 1 unlined pond Arsenic (x29), Boron (x8), Molybdenum (x20)
Sibley Sibley Evergy 2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x20), Boron (x3), Molybdenum (x30)
Sikeston Sikeston Sikeston Bd of Municipal Utilities 2 unlined ponds Boron (x2), Molybdenum (x14)
Sioux West Alton Ameren 2 unlined ponds, 1 lined pond, 1 landfill Boron (x15), Cobalt (x2), Lithium (x1), Molybdenum (x162), Sulfate (x2)
Thomas Hill Clifton Hill Associated Electric Coop 4 unlined ponds Sulfate (x5)

* Based on historical industry monitoring data. See Ashtracker.

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 Missouri and throughout the U.S., see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.

17 Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in Missouri

March 2024 Update: The table below underestimates the legacy units that may be regulated by EPA’s upcoming CCR Legacy Pond Rule. Additional legacy units at specific plants may be found in the national map, above.

In addition, Missouri hosts at least 17 inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds. The exact number remains unknown because utilities were 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.

Chamois Chamois Central Elec Power Coop 5 0 Unknown – no data
Hawthorn Kansas City Kansas City Power & Light 2 1 Unknown – no data
John Twitty Springfield City Utilities of Springfield 0 1 Yes – industry data
Lake Road St. Joseph KCP&L Greater MO 2 1 Unknown – no data
Montrose Clinton Evergy 0 1 Yes – industry data
Rush Island Festus Ameren 0 1 Yes – industry data
Sibley Sibley Evergy 0 1 Yes – industry data
Sioux West Alton Ameren 0 1 Yes – industry data
Thomas Hill Clifton Hill Associated Electric Coop 0 1 Yes – industry data

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.