May 3, 2023
Toxic Coal Ash in New York: 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 York has 12 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 New York communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
Eight Regulated Coal Ash Disposal Sites in New York
New York utilities operate eight federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills containing more than 7 million cubic yards of toxic waste at six sites.
Coal ash has caused significant groundwater contamination at all of New York’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 New York company, to date, has initiated a plant-wide cleanup to restore groundwater, despite the legal requirement to do so.
|AES Somerset||Barker||Somerset Operating Company||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Antimony (x4), Arsenic (x1), Boron (x69), Cobalt (x4), Lithium (x6), Sulfate (x4)|
|Cayuga||Lansing||Cayuga Operating Company||1 landfill||Boron (x4), Lithium (x28), Molybdenum (x25), Selenium (x1), Sulfate (x3)|
|Dunkirk||Dunkirk||NRG||1 landfill||Antimony (x3), Thallium (x2)|
|Greenidge||Dresden||Greenidge Generation LLC||1 unlined pond||Arsenic (x5)|
|Huntley||Tonawanda||NRG||1 unlined pond, 1 landfill||Antimony (x4), Arsenic (x3), Boron (x3), Lead (x2), Lithium (x2), Sulfate (x4), Thallium (x11)|
|Lockwood Ash Disposal Site||Torrey||Lockwood Hills LLC||1 landfill||Antimony (x1), Arsenic (x1), Boron (x2), Molybdenum (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 York, see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.
Four Unregulated Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in New York (ash dumps exempted from the 2015 Coal Ash Rule)
In addition, New York hosts at least four unregulated inactive coal ash landfills that escape federal regulation. The exact number remains unknown because utilities are not required to report these sites.
At all of the sites in New York, data show that groundwater has been contaminated by coal ash, 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.
|Greenidge||Dresden||Greenidge Generation LLC||0||1||Yes – Industry data|
|AES Somerset||Barker||Somerset Operating Company||0||2||Yes – Industry data|
|Danskammer||Newburgh||Dynergy Northeast Gen Inc.||0||1||Yes – EPA damage case|
Greenidge's and AES Somerset's evidence of site contamination: 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.
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
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.