Toxic Coal Ash in Virginia: 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. Virginia has 36 coal ash dumpsites.

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.

Dominion Virginia Power's coal ash pond at Possum Point, Virginia.
Dominion Virginia Power's coal ash pond at Possum Point, Virginia. (Potomac Riverkeepers)

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)

17 Federally Regulated Coal Ash Disposal Sites in Virginia

Virginia utilities operate 17 federally regulated coal ash ponds and landfills, containing more than 51.5 million cubic yards of toxic waste at eight coal plants.

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

To date, however, no Virginia plant has even selected a cleanup plan to remediate groundwater, although cleanup should have been initiated at most sites according to the federal Coal Ash Rule.

Bremo Bremo Bluff Dominion 3 unlined ponds Boron (x1), Cobalt (x6), Lithium (x10), Molybdenum (x5)
Chesapeake Chesapeake Dominion 1 unlined pond Antimony (x1), Arsenic (x21), Beryllium (x6), Boron (x2), Cobalt (x13), Lithium (x11), Molybdenum (x2), Radium 226+228 (x9), Selenium (x9), Sulfate (x4)
Chesterfield Chester Dominion 2 unlined ponds, 1 landfill Arsenic (x16), Boron (x3), Cobalt (x31), Lithium (x3), Molybdenum (x2), Radium 226+228 (x2), Sulfate (x1)
Clinch River Cleveland AEP 1 unlined pond Barium (x2), Cobalt (x2), Lithium (x4), Molybdenum (x4)
Clover Clover Dominion 1 lined pond, 1 landfill Lithium (x2)
Possum Pt Dumfries Dominion 5 unlined ponds Arsenic (x3), Boron (x1), Cobalt (x5)
Virginia City St. Paul Dominion 1 landfill No contaminants exceeding federal thresholds
Yorktown Yorktown Dominion 1 landfill No contaminants exceeding federal thresholds

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 Virginia, see Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination.

19 Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in Virginia

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, Virginia hosts at least 19 inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds that escaped federal regulation. 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.

Amelia Landfill* Jetersville Waste Management 0 1 No data available
Battlefield Golf Course Chesapeake Dominion 0 1 Yes – EPA damage case
Birchwood Power Plant* King George J-Power Development Company and General Electric 0 1 No data available
Chesapeake Chesapeake Virginia Electric & Power Co 0 1 Yes – industry data
Clinch River Cleveland Appalachian Power Co 0 2 Yes – EPA damage case
Clover Clover Dominion Energy 0 2 Yes – industry data
Glen Lyn Glen Lyn Appalachian Power Co 3 1 Yes – EPA damage case
Hopewell Power Hopewell Virginia Electric & Power Co 1 0 No data available
Portsmouth Genco* Portsmouth Quantum Energy Partners LLC 1 0 No data available
Potomac River Alexandria Potomac Electric Power Co. 0 1 No data available
Riverton Power Plant* Riverton Unknown 0 1 No data available
Yorktown – Chisman Creek Sites Yorktown Virginia Power 0 3 Yes – EPA damage case and NPL Superfund site. This site has been remediated and is monitored.

* Data on these unregulated landfills and ponds is found in Inventory of Chesapeake Bay Watershed Coal Ash Deposits (December 2021).

“Industry data”: Industry monitoring data are the basis of a finding of contamination. See Ashtracker.

“EPA damage case” denotes a site where US EPA has found documented groundwater contamination from coal ash.

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.

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.