May 4, 2023
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.
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 Virginia communities are protected from coal ash pollution.
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 Unregulated Coal Ash Legacy Ponds and Inactive Landfills in Virginia for which Federal Regulations Have Not Yet Been Adopted
In addition, Virginia hosts at least 19 inactive coal ash landfills and legacy ponds that escape federal regulation. The exact number remains unknown because utilities are 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.
For More Information
Christine Santillana, Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice, email@example.com
Lisa Evans, Senior Counsel, Earthjustice, firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on Coal Ash in Virginia
- Poisonous Coverup: The Widespread Failure of the Power Industry to Clean Up Coal Ash Dumps (November 3, 2022)
- Virginia’s Toxic Coal Ash Problem: The Need to Protect the Health, Safety and Water of Virginia (May 2015)
- As Coal Ash Problems Continue, DEQ In Position To Order Effective Cleanup (May 12, 2015)
- Tr-Ash Talk: $2 Billion Coal Ash Suit In Chesapeake (February 22, 2012)
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.