Coal Ash Contaminating Groundwater Across U.S.

Dec. 25, 2018

At least 67 coal ash dumps in 22 states are leaking harmful chemicals into groundwater


On Dec. 22, 2008, the earthen wall of a coal ash impoundment in Kingston, Tenn., ruptured. The disaster sent 1.1 billion gal of coal ash slurry across the countryside, destroying homes and filling streams and wetland with toxic leftovers.

According to Truthout, the Kingston disaster was the worst coal ash spill in U.S. history. No one died in the flood but more than 30 workers have died after cleaning up the spill and another 200 workers are now sick of dying from blood cancer and other illnesses. The illnesses are linked to heavy metals such as arsenic, selenium and mercury that are found in coal ash.

The aftermath inspired environmentalist to push for tighter regulations over the past decade, according to Truthout. However, pollution from coal ash remains an ongoing problem in the U.S. At least 67 coal ash dumps in 22 states are leaking harmful chemicals into groundwater.

The spill is not the only coal ash disaster in recent memory, according to Truthout. A Duke Energy coal sludge pond in North Carolina leaked thousands of tons of coal ash in 2014. Millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River. Some environmentalists say at least one Duke coal ash pond overflowed during the storm and contaminated the Cape Fear River with heavy metals.

The Trump administration is working to fulfill a central campaign promise and buoy the coal industry by rolling back Obama-era regulations, according to Truthout. In 2015, the EPA would not classify coal ash as “hazardous waste” that requires strict federal oversight. This exempted coal ash dumps at retired power plants from new rules requiring liners to prevent toxins from leaching into the groundwater.

“A lot of these coal ash ponds are sited in the groundwater table, or they are directly next to a river, or both, in a lot of cases,” said Jennifer Peters, water program director at Clean Water Action, according to Truthout.

However, the 2015 rules do require utility companies to monitor groundwater around their coal ash dumps and report the results to the public when problems are found.