Toxic Coal Ash in New Jersey: 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. New Jersey has eight 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. 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.

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. After years of litigation and grassroots activism, the EPA will extend clean up requirements to hundreds of old coal ash dumps across the country when it issues new regulations in the spring of 2024.

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

Aerial view of the Hudson Generating Station in Jersey City, New Jersey.
The Hudson Generating Station in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Map data ©2023 Imagery ©2023 , Airbus, Bluesky, CNES / Airbus, Landsat / Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, Sanborn, USDA/FPAC/GEO)

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)

Six Regulated Coal Ash Disposal Sites in New Jersey

New Jersey utilities operate six federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills at three retired coal plants.

While New Jersey no longer has any coal-fired generating stations still in operation, several of these facilities have caused significant groundwater contamination.

However, their operators have yet to complete a comprehensive cleanup to restore water resources despite the legal requirement to do so.

B.L. England Generating Station Beesley’s Point RCCM 1 unlined pond Not evaluated
Hudson Generating Station Jersey City HRP Hudson LLC (formerly PSEG) 3 unlined ponds Barium (x1), Cobalt (x1), Lithium (x2), Radium 226+228 (x4), Sulfate (x1), Thallium (x6)
Mercer Generation Station Hamilton Township HRP Mercer LLC (formerly PSEG) 2 unlined ponds Cobalt (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 New Jersey and throughout the U.S., see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.

Two Unregulated Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in New Jersey (ash dumps exempted from the 2015 Coal Ash Rule)

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, New Jersey hosts at least two unregulated inactive coal ash landfills that escape federal regulation. The exact number is unknown because utilities are not required to publicly report these unregulated dumps.

At both of these sites, evidence shows that coal ash has contaminated groundwater, but there are no federal monitoring or cleanup requirements.

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.

Hudson Generating Station Jersey City HRP Hudson LLC (formerly PSEG) 0 1 Yes – Industry data
Mercer Generation Station Hamilton Township HRP Hudson LLC (formerly PSEG) 0 1 Yes – Industry data

Evidence of site contamination: All data derived from the utilities’ publicly accessible CCR Compliance Data and Information websites, and exceedances were calculated by Environmental Integrity Project.

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.