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Coal Ash Contaminated Sites

Coal-fired power plants generate about 140 million tons of fly ash, scrubber sludge, and other combustion wastes every year. These wastes contain some of the earth's most deadly pollutants, including toxic metals that can cause cancer and neurological harm in humans.

Coal combustion waste sites are known to have contaminated groundwater, wetlands, creeks, or rivers. These could easily have been prevented with sensible safeguards such as phasing out leak-prone ash ponds and requiring the use of synthetic liners and leachate collection systems. Yet, incredibly, ash and other coal combustion wastes are not subject to federal regulations that require these simple safeguards.

Map Legend

Red icon. Contaminated Site
Green icon. Spill
Black icon. Contaminated Site and Spill

Known* cases of contamination & spills: 208

* As of February 2014. These cases of documented water contamination are likely to be only a small percentage of the coal ash-contaminated sites in the U.S. Most coal ash landfills and ponds do not conduct monitoring, so the majority of water contamination goes undetected. According to U.S. EPA, there are over 1,000 operating coal ash landfills and ponds and many hundreds of "retired" coal ash disposal sites.

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  • For additional information on these contaminated sites, see State Fact Sheets on Coal Ash.
  • For more information on coal ash ponds and landfills in the southeast, visit Southeast Coal Ash Waste, a website managed by our coalition partners at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Spotlight Features

High and Significant Hazard Coal Ash Dump Sites

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rates coal ash ponds according to a National Inventory of Dams criteria that categorizes the ponds by the damage that would occur if the pond collapses. There are 331 High and Significant hazard coal ash ponds in the United States. The NID hazard potential ratings refer to the potential for loss of life or damage if there is a dam failure.

Clean Up Coal Ash

Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned. Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins from coal ash readily leach into drinking water supplies.