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Jan. 26, 2022

Coal Plants Failing to Protect Our Water From Toxic Coal Ash

Map depicting coal plants that have admitted contamination of groundwater with heavy metals and other toxins from coal ash but haven’t begun to address the mess.

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This map depicts coal plants that:

  • Have admitted contamination of groundwater with heavy metals and other toxins from coal ash but haven’t begun to address the mess; and
  • Are closing their coal ash ponds in place within 5 feet of groundwater, threatening contamination with heavy metals and other toxins.

The utility industry is skirting the federal coal ash rule to avoid cleaning up coal ash. Utilities accomplish this by covering up the contamination, indefinitely delaying clean-up and leaving coal ash where it will leak permanently into our water supplies. We have enough toxic coal ash sitting in leaking ponds and landfills in the U.S. to fill train cars that circle the Earth more than five times over.

Most coal plants have done almost nothing to clean up the water contamination at almost all the 738 regulated coal ash dump sites across the country. Only a handful of coal plants have a meaningful plan to clean up the groundwater they’ve contaminated, although hundreds admit they have contaminated this water to unsafe levels.

The plant owners are evading cleanup responsibilities by several ploys:

  1. They claim the culprit is other coal ash on their property that isn’t regulated due to a loophole;
  2. They blame some other “unnamed source” or "naturally occurring" chemicals for contaminating groundwater with the same coal ash contaminants that are leaking from their dumps;
  3. They use tainted water samples near dirty locations on their property as “background” to show that the contaminated water near their regulated coal ash dumps is not much worse; and
  4. They post “cleanup plans” on their website but never actually initiate cleanup, even years after posting, despite the fact that the federal rule requires plants to choose a cleanup remedy “as soon as feasible.”

Earthjustice is fighting in court and alongside partners in impacted communities for a long-term solution to the toxic menace of coal ash. 

Media Inquiries: Miranda Fox,

Earthjustice’s Coal Program was founded in 2008 to end our reliance on dirty, expensive, and outdated coal-fired power plants; clean up the toxic coal ash mess left by utilities throughout the country; and replace retiring coal plants with clean energy rather than gas. Learn more.