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Jul. 29, 2021 | New! Coal Ash Cleanup Resources

Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination

738 coal ash units in 43 states and Puerto Rico have reported information in compliance with federal coal ash safeguards since 2015. Here’s what the data said.

Beginning in 2018, coal-fired electric utilities were compelled to publicly report groundwater monitoring data for the first time ever, following transparency requirements imposed by federal coal ash What is coal ash? The toxic waste produced when coal is burned by power plants to make electricity. regulations, known formally as the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule.

For decades, utilities have disposed of coal ash dangerously, dumping it in unlined ponds and landfills where the toxins leak into groundwater.

According to industry’s own data, more than 95% of the coal ash ponds in the United States are unlined.

Almost all of them are contaminating groundwater with toxins above levels that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems safe for drinking water.

Much of industry’s disclosure of the data has been in abstruse and non-standard formats. The data can be difficult to find, despite the requirement that the information be publicly accessible. Some utilities fail to post the required information entirely or conceal it behind sign-in walls to prevent search engines from locating the disclosures.

Legal and technical experts from Earthjustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, and partner organizations located and analyzed the data disclosures.

More than 550 units — at 265 plants — reported groundwater monitoring data.

Based on that data, 91% of these plants are contaminating groundwater with toxic substances at levels exceeding federal safe standards.

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Understanding The Data in this Map

All data included on the map are found in industry disclosures posted on individual owner/operator websites, with the exception of demographic estimates and congressional district information. The publicly available owner/operator websites, entitled “CCR Rule Compliance Data and Information,” are mandated by the 2015 CCR Rule so that the public, as well as state and federal regulators, can determine an owner/operator’s compliance with the requirements of the Rule.

To the best of our knowledge, neither U.S. EPA nor any other entity has attempted to collect, review, and make public this information comprehensively.

By providing these data, we are not confirming that the industry disclosures and documents are compliant with the CCR Rule or contain true, accurate, current, and complete information.

In addition, while these data are the result of careful review of thousands of documents, we appreciate any information about data that may be out of date, or other errors and omissions.

The 2015 CCR Rule contained a loophole exempting from any protections the “legacy” coal ash ponds located at retired power plants that closed before the effective date of the Rule (October 2015). These "legacy" ponds are included on a separate map.

In August 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Rule’s exemptions for “legacy” ash ponds fell short of statutory requirements to protect human health and the environment, and ordered U.S. EPA to strengthen the Rule.

Map data updated on Oct. 6, 2020

How to Use This Map Best experienced on larger screens, given the amount of data presented.

· Hover over each marker to see the number of coal ash units at that site.

· Zoom in to see the individual markers for each coal ash unit. Click on markers to display full information for each unit.

· Filter map data by clicking on sidebar charts to select criteria. For example, click on "Complete Draft Plan Available" chart item to only display units with links to cleanup plans.

Groundwater Contamination Summary Describes the status of groundwater monitoring and whether the operator has found groundwater contamination from coal ash.

In the map, Toxic Metal Contamination is per formal industry disclosures. Based on groundwater data available for 265 plants, 91 percent of these plants are contaminating groundwater with toxic substances exceeding federal safe standards.

Toxic Metal Contamination from [X Metals] Significant increases above drinking water standards were found for the listed metals. Cleanup plan required by the CCR Rule to stop the release and restore groundwater to original conditions, if no alternative source demonstration was made.

Significant Contamination Significant increases in contamination were detected, and enhanced monitoring for toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, and radium has been initiated, if no alternative source demonstration was made.

Groundwater Monitoring in Process No statistically significant increases in coal ash contaminants detected above background levels to date. Toxic metals may still, however, be present.

Monitoring Recently Required The unit received an extension under the CCR Rule and was required to begin groundwater monitoring in April 2019.

Unknown Monitoring is not required at this unit.

Non-Compliance The operator has failed to establish a groundwater monitoring system as required by law.

Alternative Source Demonstration (ASD) For units with significant contamination and/or toxic metal contamination, some operators have shown that an alternate source is allegedly responsible for the contamination. Any demonstrations are usually posted in the annual groundwater monitoring reports due in March of every year.

For more detailed information about specific levels of contamination, please refer to Ashtracker.

Cleanup Plan Status Cleanup plans are required for all units that have made a determination of toxic metal contamination without demonstrating that a source other than the regulated coal ash dumps caused the contamination (or in other words, making an "Alternative Source Demonstration").

The cleanup plan must be initiated within 90 days of a contamination finding, and notice of initiation may be publicly posted up to 60 days after initiation. Cleanup plans must be completed within 90 to 150 days of initiation, and publicly posted 30 days after completion.

NA The unit never entered groundwater assessment monitoring, or never demonstrated a statistically significant level of groundwater pollution in assessment monitoring.

Operator Claims No Cleanup Required Although the unit demonstrated a significant level of pollution in groundwater, the operator then made an Alternative Source Demonstration alleging that the pollution did not come from the coal ash unit.

No Information Available Yet The unit is in assessment monitoring. The operator has neither posted an Alternative Source Demonstration, nor posted a notification that an Assessment of Corrective Measures (also known as a "cleanup plan") has begun.

Cleanup Plan Due Soon The operator has announced that it has started the process of assessing cleanup measures but has not yet posted the draft plan.

Complete Draft Plan Available The draft cleanup plan has been posted by the operator. See unit information for link to the draft plan.

Initiation of Cleanup Plan Date Date of initiation of remedy research for the cleanup plan.

Cleanup Plan Date Date of the document proposing a remedy (or a selection of remedies) to address contaminated groundwater.

Liner Status Refers to whether the disposal unit was constructed with an impermeable barrier that meets the requirements of the CCR Rule.

A liner must include both a synthetic membrane and a two-foot-thick layer of compacted soil, or an equivalent system.

Unlined The unit lacks a liner, or the utility has failed to prove that it does have one, which are legally the same.

Lined The unit has a liner that satisfies the CCR Rule.

NA/Unknown The CCR Rule did not require landfills to disclose their liner status, so for most landfills, we do not have liner information.

Closure Status Indicates whether the dump is still operating and, if so, whether the operator has provided notice that it intends to close the unit in the near future.

Open The default status for units that have not posted any closure notices. Although activities may vary, we assume these sites are actively receiving new loads of coal ash.

Notice of Intent to Close The operator has submitted a formal notice that it will stop dumping coal ash into the unit and begin the closure process in the near future.

Closed The operator has indicated that the closure process is complete. For units that closed in place, post-closure care should be ongoing.

Closure Type Specifies the method by which the operator intends to close the coal ash unit, according to disclosures made pursuant to the CCR Rule, or if the unit is already closed, the method the operator actually used.

Operators must include this information in a public closure plan even if the impoundment is not yet closed.

In Place Closing the dump by leaving the coal ash where it is and “capping” it with a cover. If a unit is closed in place, the operator must continue groundwater monitoring and other post-closure care for the unit for at least 30 years.

Removal Excavating the coal ash and transporting it to a different disposal unit for permanent disposal.

Unknown The operator has failed to disclose its closure method for the dump, or the closure plan is not yet required.

Location Restriction Compliance Indicates whether the unit complies with the five location restrictions established by the CCR Rule.

Aquifer New landfills, expansions and all ponds must sit at least five feet above the uppermost aquifer.

Wetlands New landfills, expansions and all ponds must not be located in wetlands, unless operators can demonstrate that the unit does not degrade the wetlands, among other requirements.

Fault Areas New landfills, expansions and all ponds must not be located with 200 feet of a fault active within the last 12,000 years.

Seismic Impact Zones New landfills, expansions and all ponds must not be located in a place that has at least a 2% chance of a significant earthquake in the next 50 years.

Unstable Areas All landfills and ponds must not be located in places that could result in structural damage because of poor foundations (e.g., karst terrain).

A value of NA indicates that the requirement does not apply to the unit in question, or that disclosure is not yet required.

Hazard Rating Describes the potential for loss of life or damage if there is a dam failure at a coal ash impoundment.

Based on the same criteria as the Army Corps of Engineers National Inventory of Dams. U.S. EPA defines the ratings, as follows:

HIGH Failure or mis-operation of these dams will probably cause loss of human life.

SIGNIFICANT Failure or mis-operation of these dams would probably not cause any deaths, but it would cause economic loss, environmental damage, and disruption of lifeline facilities.

LOW Failure or mis-operation would be unlikely to cause loss of life or significant economic or environmental losses, with losses principally limited to the owner’s property.

INCISED These impoundments do not have dams because they are entirely below ground level. Therefore they have no dam ratings, although underground failures can and do occur.

UNKNOWN The operator of the surface impoundment failed to post the required information.

NA This requirement only applies to surface impoundments, not landfills.

Volume Indicates the quantity of CCR and, if applicable, water held in the unit as of 2018. All measurements are in cubic yards.

Some quantities are converted from acre-feet, gallon, and ton values provided by industry. For ton to cubic yard conversions, we assumed a unit weight of 1.2 tons/cubic yard, an estimate used in Duke Energy compliance documents for wet ash. Estimates are given based on historical data where annual data are not available.

A value of * indicates the operator did not disclose individual unit numbers, and instead combined them together.

Operator's Compliance Website The publicly accessible website required by the CCR Rule where the operator’s compliance documents must be posted.

Most of these data were drawn from industry websites.

Demographic Data Estimates were generated using the 2012–2016 American Community Survey (ACS) from the United States Census Bureau and are available in EJSCREEN’s Standard Reports, along with information about other demographic indicators, EJ Indexes, and environmental indicators.

Low-Income An estimate of the percent of individuals in households where the household income is less than or equal to twice the federal poverty level.

People-of-Color An estimate of the percent of individuals who list their racial status as a race other than white alone and/or list their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino.

EJSCREEN was designed in the context of EPA’s environmental justice policies and is a screening tool that can help identify areas that may warrant additional consideration, analysis, or outreach.

In a few cases, data for the 3-mile radius surrounding facilities is unavailable, so the 5-mile results are shown. More information about EJSCREEN’s methods and purpose, ACS data, and their caveats and limitations, especially when looking at small geographic and low-density areas, is available in U.S. EPA’s 2017 Documentation.

The 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals Rule is the first-ever federal safeguards against coal ash pollution. The protections were the result of more than a decade of litigation by Earthjustice, on behalf of our clients and alongside our partners.

Harm to human health from breathing and ingesting coal ash toxicants.
Graphic by Earthjustice
Harm to human health from breathing and ingesting coal ash toxicants. Open infographic.

Coal ash, the toxic remains of coal burning in power plants, contains a hazardous brew of toxic pollutants including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, radium, selenium, and more.

The toxics in coal ash can cause cancer, heart disease, reproductive failure, and stroke, and can inflict lasting brain damage on children.

Earthjustice fights in the courts for a long-term solution to this toxic menace. And we act on behalf of dozens of clients and coalition partners to defeat legislative attempts to subvert federally enforceable safeguards of coal ash.

The Impacts of Coal Ash

Is Drinking Water Safe Near Contaminated Coal Ash Sites?

Both U.S. EPA and public interest groups have identified at least 24 sites where private wells have been contaminated by coal ash.

Most often, neither power companies nor state regulators test private drinking water wells. Most state regulations and U.S. EPA’s CCR Rule require plant owners to test only onsite groundwater.

As a result, contamination may go undetected in private wells for years, because most coal ash pollutants have no telltale taste or color.

While there is ample groundwater data for most coal plants sufficient to establish that groundwater is contaminated above levels that are safe to drink, determining the quality of drinking water in nearby communities is much more difficult due to lack of data. Consequently, we cannot at this time determine the safety of drinking water near the hundreds of coal ash dumps covered by the CCR Rule.

Even with scant data available nationally, there is nevertheless historical evidence that coal ash ponds, landfills, and “beneficial use” have contaminated residential drinking water wells.

Case Study: Town of Pines. The most widespread drinking water contamination occurred in Town of Pines, Indiana, from a leaking landfill and coal ash used as “fill” throughout the town.

As a result of the water contamination, U.S. EPA declared Town of Pines a Superfund site in 2001, and NIPSCO, the utility responsible, eventually provided municipal water to most residents and removed coal ash and contaminated soil from the town.

Vac truck excavation work near the town pavillion in Town of Pines, Indiana.
Vac truck excavation work near the town pavillion in Town of Pines, Indiana.
The  24 sites, known at this time, where coal ash ponds, landfills, and “fill” sites contaminated private drinking water wells.

Below are the 24 sites, known at this time, where coal ash ponds, landfills, and “fill” sites contaminated private drinking water wells.

City / County, StateContaminants Found In Drinking Water/Groundwater[1]Operator and SiteRelease From Pond, Landfill, Or “Beneficial” UseCitation
Apollo Beach, FLArsenic, thallium, boron, molybdenumTampa Electric Co.: Big Bend Power StationUnlined pondEPA, (2014c), EIP (2010a)
Juliette, GACobalt, potentially uraniumGeorgia Power: Plant SchererUnlined pondCNN (2012); GA Power (2018)
Joliet, ILBoronNRG: Joliet #9 Generating Station (Lincoln Stone Quarry Landfill)Unlined pond in quarryEIP (2010b)
Oakwood, ILArsenic, lead, iron, manganese, chromium* Bunge North America Corp.: Rocky Acres Coal Combustion By-Product Disposal Site"Beneficial" use fill projectEIP (2010a)
Princeton, INBoron, arsenicDuke Energy: Gibson Generating StationUnlined ponds and landfillEPA (2014a); EIP (2010a)
Town of Pines, INArsenic, boron, molybdenum, lead, selenium, sulfate* NIPSCO: Yard 520 (Town of Pines Superfund Site)Unlined landfills and fill projectsEPA (2014a)
Gambrills, MDArsenic, cadmium, lead, thallium, beryllium, nickel, aluminum, manganese, sulfate, lithium* Constellation Energy: BBSS S&G Quarries (Gambrills Site)"Beneficial" use (unlined quarry fill)EPA (2014a)
Colstrip, MTBoron, molybdenum, arsenic, selenium, sulfateTalen Energy: Colstrip Steam Electric StationUnlined pondsEPA (2014a); EIP (2010a)
Waterflow, NMArsenic, boron, lead, sulfates and selenium* Public Service New Mexico: San Juan Generating StationUnlined pondEarthjustice (2009)
Lansing, NYBoron, lead, selenium* AES: Cayuga Coal Ash Disposal LandfillLandfillEPA (2014a); EIP (2010b)
Gaston County, NCArsenic, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, lithium, thallium Duke Energy: Allen Steam StationUnlined pondEPA (2014b)
Wilmington, NCThallium, Antimony, boron, selenium, TDS, sulfate, manganese, iron, lead, arsenic, and pHDuke Energy: L.V. Sutton Energy ComplexUnlined pondsEPA (2014d)
Arden, NCIron, manganeseDuke Energy: Asheville Steam Electric PlantUnlined pondsEIP (2010a); Citizen Times (2014)
Shippingport, PAArsenic, cadmium, lead, Fluoride, barium, boron, hexavalent chromium, thalliumFirst Energy: Bruce Mansfield Plant (Little Blue Run)Unlined pondEPA (2014a); EIP (2010b)
South Heights, PATDS, Fluoride, manganese, chloride, aluminum* Duquesne Light Co.: Phillips Power PlantUnlined pondsEIP (2010a)
Camden, TNMercury, boron, sulfate* Trans Ash, Inc. LandfillUnlined landfillEIP (2010a)
Yorktown, VANickel, selenium, vanadium, sulfateDominion: Yorktown Power StationUnlined ponds and gravel pitEPA (2014a)
Dumfries, VALead, aluminum, pH, cobaltDominion: Possum Point Power StationUnlined pondsECC Report (2016)
Chesapeake, VABoron, arsenic chromium, copper, lead vanadium* Dominion Virginia Power: Battlefield Golf Course"Beneficial" use fill projectEPA (2014b)
Waukesha, WIArsenic, boron, molybdenum, manganese, iron, sulfate, chloride* We Energies: Highway 59 LandfillUnlined landfill (sand and gravel pit)EPA (2014a)
Oak Creek, WIBoron, molybdenumWe Energies: Oak Creek Power Plant, Caledonia LandfillUnlined landfills and "beneficial" use fill projectEPA (2014d), EIP (2010b)
Sheboygan, WIBoron, arsenic, selenium, chloride, sulfate, iron, TDSWPL: Edgewater Generating StationUnlined ponds, landfillEPA (2014b)
Cassville, WIBoron, Fluoride, sulfate and TDSWPL: Nelson Dewey StationUnlined pondsEPA (2014b)
Ozaukee County, WIBoron, selenium* Druecker Quarry Fly Ash Site- WEPCO Port Washington FacilityUnlined landfillEPA (2014b)
1 The groundwater contaminants represent the constituents found in groundwater both onsite and offsite.
* Asterisked sites and sources do not appear in this website's CCR Rule Compliance map dataset, either because they are related to “legacy” ash ponds that will need to come into compliance per the Aug. 2018 D.C. Circuit Court order, or to disposal sites that are not subject to the CCR Rule for other reasons. For example, the CCR Rule does not regulate landfills that ceased receiving coal ash before October 2015.
EPA (2014a): U.S. EPA, Damage Case Compendium, Technical Support Document, Volume I, Proven Damage Cases (Dec. 18, 2014)
EPA (2014b): U.S. EPA, Damage Case Compendium, Technical Support Document, Volume IIa, Potential Damage Cases (Dec. 18, 2014)
EPA (2014c): U.S. EPA, Damage Case Compendium, Technical Support Document, Volume IIb, Part One, Potential Damage Cases (Dec. 18, 2014)
EPA (2014d): U.S. EPA, Damage Case Compendium, Technical Support Document, Volume IIb, Part Two, Potential Damage Cases (Dec. 18, 2014)
EIP (2010a): Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites (Feb. 24, 2010)
EIP (2010b): Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and Sierra Club, In Harm’s Way: Lack of Coal Ash Regulations Endangers Americans and their Environment (Aug. 26, 2010)
Earthjustice (2009): Earthjustice. Waste Deep (2009).
Citizen Times: Clarke Morrison, Citizen Times, Groups seek to join Duke coal ash lawsuits (Jan. 17, 2014).
ECC Report (2016): Environmental Consultants and Contractors, Report of Findings, Potable Well Findings (April 6, 2016).
CNN (2012): John Sepulvado, CNN Radio, A power plant, cancer and a small town’s fears. (April 1, 2012).
GA Power: Georgia Power, Plant Scherer CCR Rule Compliance Information, Appendix IV SSI Notification, Golder Associates (Nov. 14, 2018).
The Impacts of Coal Ash

Damage to Aquatic Life from Coal Ash Disposal

For decades, discharges of coal ash-contaminated water to reservoirs, lakes, rivers and streams have caused significant harm to fish and wildlife.

The release of bioaccumulative toxins from coal ash, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and selenium, has caused fish kills, deformities in fish and amphibians, and health hazards to people consuming contaminated fish.

Selenium is a particularly dangerous contaminant because it is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels.

A study commissioned by the J.R. Simplot Company on selenium contamination in creeks in southeast Idaho includes photos of deformed Yellowstone cutthroat trout (top) and brown trout (bottom).
J.R. Simplot / Idaho DEQ
A study commissioned by the J.R. Simplot Company on selenium contamination in creeks in southeast Idaho includes photos of deformed Yellowstone cutthroat trout (top) and brown trout (bottom). Selenium is one of the most common coal ash contaminants found near coal ash dumps — frequently at levels higher than those measured in the Idaho stream that spawned the two-headed fish.

In addition, selenium bioaccumulates in food chains and passes from parents to offspring in eggs, where it causes a variety of skeletal deformities and other abnormalities in the developing embryos. This can lead to massive reproductive failure and local extinction of species.

At least three toxins common to coal ash, including arsenic, methyl mercury, and selenium, can result in biomagnification in aquatic organisms, thereby increasing the danger of ingestion by humans and other animals.

A review of documented environmental damage since 1967 reveals that harm from coal ash has injured fish, birds, amphibians, and wildlife at multiple locations across the United States.

Case Study: Belews Lake. The most studied case of coal ash damage occurred at Belews Lake in North Carolina in the 1970s, when coal ash-contaminated water from an ash pond at Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station caused a long-term catastrophic toxic event. Selenium poisoning killed 19 of the 20 fish species in 3800-acre Belews Lake. Adverse impacts in fish and birds persisted at the lake for decades.

A study commissioned by the J.R. Simplot Company on selenium contamination in creeks in southeast Idaho includes photos of deformed Yellowstone cutthroat trout (top) and brown trout (bottom).
A. Dennis Lemly. Aquatic Toxicology 57 (2002) 39 49
One of the most visible effects of selenium in Belews Lake was spinal deformities, as shown in mosquitofish (left) and a red shiner (right). Individual on the far right is normal.

The following list of contaminated waterbodies, documented by U.S. EPA and scientists, is not comprehensive of all the coal ash-impaired waters in the United States, because water quality data for surface water and fish tissue data is available for only a limited number of sites.

28 sites in 13 states and provides a limited snapshot of the toll of coal ash on aquatic environments.

This list, nevertheless, comprises 28 sites in 15 states and provides a limited snapshot of the toll of coal ash on aquatic environments.

The damage to fish and wildlife is both dramatic and costly. One expert estimates that the combined direct and indirect cost of poisoned fish and wildlife at 21 of the 28 sites below has exceeded $2.3 billion.1

Name of WaterbodyCity or County, StateSource of Coal Ash ContaminationCitation
Widows CreekStevenson, AL* TVA: Widows Creek Fossil Fuel PlantLemly (2012)
Euharlee CreekCartersville, GAGeorgia Power: Plant BowenEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Gibson LakePrinceton, INDuke Energy: Gibson Generating StationEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Herrington LakeHarrodsburg, KYE.W. Brown Generating StationLemly (2018)
Lake ErieErie, MIConsumers Energy: J.R. Whiting Power PlantEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Lake HuronEssexville, MIConsumer Energy: DE Karn and JC Weadock Power PlantsEIP (2010a)
Belews LakeWalnut Cove, NC Duke Energy: Belews Creek Steam StationEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Hyco LakeSemora, NC Duke Energy: Roxboro Steam Electric PlantEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Sutton LakeWilmington, NCDuke Energy: L.V. Sutton Generating Energy ComplexLemly (2013)
Mayo Reservoir Roxboro, NC Duke Energy: Mayo Steam Electric StationEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Kyger Creek/Stingy RunGavin Power, OHGavin Power LLC: Gavin Power PlantLemly (2012); EIP (2010b)
Delaware RiverMt. Bethel Township, PA * Talen Energy: Martins Creek Power PlantEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Monongahela RiverMasontown, PA First Energy: Hatfield's Ferry power StationLemly (2012)
Wateree RiverEastover, SCSCE&G: Wateree Generating StationLemly (2012); EPA (2014d)
Beaver Dam Creek, Savannah RiverSavannah River, SC* DOD: D-Area Electric and Steam Generating FacilityEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
McCoy BranchOak Ridge, TN* DOE: Oak Ridge Y-12 Power PlantEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Melton Hill ReservoirLenoir City, TNTVA: Kingston Fossil PlantLemly (2012)
Clinch and Emory RiversHarriman, TNTVA: Kingston Fossil PlantLemly (2012)
Brady Branch ReservoirMarshall , TXAEP-SWEPCO: H.W. Pirkey Power PlantEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Martin LakeTatum, Rusk, Manola Counties, TXLuminant Generation: Martin Lake Steam Electric StationEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Welsh ReservoirMount Pleasant, TXAEP: J. Robert Welsh Power PlantEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Smithers LakeThompsons, TXNRG: W.A. Parish Electric Generating StationEIP (2011)
Clinch RiverCleveland, VAAEP-Appalachian Power: Clinch River Power PlantEPA (2014a); Lemly (2012)
Adair Glen Lynn, VA* AEP: Glen Lyn PlantLemly (2012); EIP (2010b)
Rocky Run CreekPardeeville, WIWPL: Columbia Energy CenterLemly (2012); EIP (2010b)
Connor's RunMoundsville, WVAEP: Mitchell Generating PlantLemly (2012)
Little Scary CreekWinfield, WVAEP: John E. Amos Power PlantLemly (2012); EIP (2010a)
Evaporation ponds at Bridger PlantPoint of Rocks, WYPacifiCorp: Jim Bridger Power PlantLemly (2012)
1 Lemly (2012). A Dennis Lemly and Joseph P. Skorupa, Wildlife and the Coal Waste Policy Debate: Proposed Rules for Coal Waste Disposal Ignore Lessons from 45 Years of Wildlife Poisoning, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2012, 46, 8595−8600.
* Asterisked sites and sources do not appear in this website's CCR Rule Compliance map dataset, either because they are related to “legacy” ash ponds that will need to come into compliance per the Aug. 2018 D.C. Circuit Court order, or to disposal sites that are not subject to the CCR Rule for other reasons. For example, the CCR Rule does not regulate landfills that ceased receiving coal ash before October 2015.
Lemly (2012): A Dennis Lemly and Joseph P. Skorupa, Wildlife and the Coal Waste Policy Debate: Proposed Rules for Coal Waste Disposal Ignore Lessons from 45 Years of Wildlife Poisoning, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2012, 46, 8595−8600.
Lemly (2013): A. Dennis Lemly, Biological Assessment to Determine Impacts of Selenium Pollution From Coal Ash Wastewater Discharges on Fish Populations in Lake Sutton, NC. (November 5, 2013).
Lemly (2018): A. Dennis Lemly, Selenium poisoning of fish by coal ash wastewater in Herrington Lake, Kentucky, 150 Ecotoxicology & Envtl. Safety 49 (2018)
EIP (2011): Environmental Integrity Project, Risky Business: Coal Ash Threatens America’s Groundwater Resources at 19 More Sites (Dec. 12, 2011)
The Impacts of Coal Ash

Requirements for Industry to Clean Up Groundwater
A Toolkit to Advocate for Coal Ash Cleanups

Hundreds of coal ash ponds must be closed over the next several years, and many plant owners are proposing inadequate and sometimes illegal and dangerous closures.

The report Cleaning Up Coal Ash For Good provides regulators, policymakers, and communities with the resources to choose effective coal ash pond closures that protect the environment and public health while also creating jobs and benefiting the economy.

When comparing the economic, environmental, and community impacts of different closure methods, the analysis finds that there are significantly higher benefits from a clean closure when all ash is removed from leaking ponds and the local community is engaged in closure and redevelopment planning processes. Learn more.

Owners of at least 124 plants in 28 states and Puerto Rico (as of Oct. 5, 2020) have posted public notifications that leaking coal ash ponds and landfills at their sites, without an alternative source demonstration, have contaminated groundwater above state and/or federal heath limits for one or more of the following toxic substances: Antimony, Arsenic, Barium, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Lead, Lithium, Molybdenum, Selenium, Thallium, and Radium 226 and 228 combined.

These admissions trigger requirements under the federal CCR Rule for the companies to clean up groundwater and engage the public, as follows:

  1. Cleanup Plan: Each plant owner must develop a cleanup plan (“corrective measures assessment”) designed to remediate any coal ash releases and to restore the contaminated area to its original condition. These cleanup plans must be completed within 180 days of discovering the contamination, and must be posted on the industry’s publicly accessible website 30 days later. The utility owner can qualify for a 60-day extension in certain cases. Cleanup plans are now available at over 100 plants, and more should be posted on industry websites this year.
  2. Public Meeting: The plant owner must discuss the results of the corrective measures assessment with interested and affected parties at least 30 days before the company selects a remedy. While there is no strict deadline for remedy selection, the utility must select a cleanup plan “as soon as feasible.” Thus, the exact date of a public meeting will be determined on a site-by-site basis.
  3. Public Engagement in the Cleanup Process: It is critical for affected communities to play an active role in the review of the cleanup plan and in the cleanup selection process. Because there is no required oversight role for U.S. EPA or state regulators, active community members are the frontline for ensuring adequate cleanup at these contaminated sites. Community evaluation of the cleanup plans will be necessary to ensure timely, comprehensive, and health-protective remediation.

Your Guide to Advocating for Coal Ash Cleanups

A Toolkit to Advocate for Coal Ash Cleanups.

The success of any individual coal ash cleanup will depend on the strength of the engagement of the local community in the cleanup process.

If you live in a community where a cleanup process will take place (see most recent list, as PDF or spreadsheet), use the information and resources in A Toolkit to Advocate for Coal Ash Cleanups for tools and tips to advocate for the most protective outcome.

If you read this toolkit, please use our form below to let us know where you're located. We want to hear from you! It is helpful for communities fighting coal ash to know that other communities across the country are also getting involved. You'll also have the opportunity to keep in touch and learn about the experiences of communities who engage in coal ash cleanups:

Cleanup Status Report Form. If the cleanup is not occurring according to the schedule established by the polluter or if data reveal contamination is not being abated, alert local, state, and federal authorities, as well as the media. You can also alert Earthjustice to the problem by using the Cleanup Status Form.

The Impacts of Coal Ash

The Ten Most Contaminated Sites

The Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice have identified the ten most contaminated sites nationwide, based on a combined measure of the extent to which each pollutant exceeded safe levels at each site.

The report, Coal’s Poisonous Legacy: Groundwater Contaminated by Coal Ash Across the United States, explains the methods for ranking the sites and discusses each site contamination in detail.

The ten most contaminated sites nationwide based on a combined measure of the extent to which each pollutant exceeded safe levels at each site.

This table summarizes the pollutants that were present at unsafe levels and the degree to which each pollutant exceeds a safe level.

Exceedances greater than 50 times a safe level are in red.

Rank & Name of SitePollutants Exceeding Safe Levels (and by how much)
#1: San Miguel Plant
Christine, TX
Arsenic (x7), Beryllium (x138), Boron (x23), Cadmium (x124), Cobalt (x522), Fluoride (x3), Lithium (x93), Mercury (x3), Radium (x6), Selenium (x8), sulfate (x20), Thallium (x9)
#2: Allen Steam Plant
Belmont, NC
Arsenic (x6), Beryllium (x6), Cadmium (x1), Cobalt (x532), Fluoride (x1), Lithium (x12), Selenium (x7), sulfate (x3), Thallium (x1)
#3: Jim Bridger Power Plant
Point of Rocks, WY
Antimony (x1), Arsenic (x5), Boron (x6), Cadmium (x4), Cobalt (x96), Fluoride (x3), Lead (x5), Lithium (x170), Molybdenum (x12), Radium (x2), Selenium (x116), sulfate (x131), Thallium (x13)
#4: Naughton Power Plant
Lincoln County, WY
Arsenic (x5), Beryllium (x2), Boron (x1), Cobalt (x3), Lead (x1), Lithium (x195), Radium (x1), Selenium (x159), sulfate (x65), Thallium (x13)
#5: New Castle Generating Station
New Castle, PA
Arsenic (x372), Boron (x3), Cobalt (x5), Lithium (x54), Molybdenum (x1), sulfate (x4)
#6: Allen Fossil Plant
Memphis, TN
Arsenic (x350), Boron (x3), Fluoride (x1), Lead (x4), Molybdenum (x9)
#7: Brandywine Ash Management Facility
Brandywine, MD
Arsenic (x5), Beryllium (x2), Boron (x16), Cobalt (x47), Lithium (x222), Molybdenum (x111), Selenium (x9), sulfate (x10),
#8: Hunter Power Plant
Castle Dale, UT
Boron (x9), Cobalt (x26), Lithium (x228), Molybdenum (x11), Radium (x2), sulfate (x66)
#9: R.D. Morrow, Sr. Generating Station
Lamar County, MS
Arsenic (x3), Boron (x13), Lead (x2), Lithium (x193), Molybdenum (x171), sulfate (x6), Thallium (x1)
#10: Ghent Generating Station
Ghent, KY
Antimony (x2), Arsenic (x3), Beryllium (x2), Boron (x4), Chromium (x3), Cobalt (x12), Lead (x3), Lithium (x154), Molybdenum (x17), Radium (x31), sulfate (x3), Thallium (x2)
The Impacts of Coal Ash

Demographic Data Surrounding Coal Ash Contaminated Sites

Nationwide, the burden of coal ash pollution is carried disproportionately by communities of color and low-income communities.

Populations of people of color and/or low-income residents are higher than the state average at six of the ten most contaminated sites with residential populations within three miles of the coal ash dumps.

These communities are unlikely to have the resources to routinely test their drinking water, and they often lack access to adequate medical care and legal assistance. In addition, these communities frequently confront multiple toxic threats that accentuate health risks. Finally, such communities often lack the political power necessary to garner the attention and assistance of regulatory agencies and elected officials.

Coal ash creates issues of environmental injustice, where harm falls disproportionately on our nation’s most vulnerable communities.

Percentages in red are above state averages. Please see map notes above for methods and sources in generating demographic data.

Rank & Name of Site% People-of-Color Est. within 3-mi% Low-Income Est. within 3-mi
#1: San Miguel Plant
Christine, TX
#2: Allen Steam Plant
Belmont, NC
#3: Jim Bridger Power Plant
Point of Rocks, WY
#4: Naughton Power Plant
Lincoln County, WY
#5: New Castle Generating Station
New Castle, PA
#6: Allen Fossil Plant
Memphis, TN
#7: Brandywine Ash Management Facility
Brandywine, MD
#8: Hunter Power Plant
Castle Dale, UT
#9: R.D. Morrow, Sr. Generating Station
Lamar County, MS
#10: Ghent Generating Station
Ghent, KY

The Fight Against Coal Ash Continues

Even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under the Trump administration, moves to weaken protections from coal ash pollution, in August 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed a pivotal victory to the American public, in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice, on behalf of public interest groups.

In a lifesaving move, the court’s order requires the agency to increase protections for coal ash waste sites, casting serious doubt on the legality of the U.S. EPA’s ongoing attempts to undermine current standards. (Read an explanation of the court decision.)

Late last year, Earthjustice — with the Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club — filed a petition for review challenging the new U.S. EPA rule that modifies the 2015 CCR Rule to, among other changes, give power plant owners more time to clean up leaking coal ash sites that have been shown to have contaminated groundwater.

For coal ash, the winds are shifting. And we will continue to work alongside impacted communities to bring industry and federal agencies accountable to the law. Learn more about our fight at Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives. 

Mapping Coal Ash: