Toxic Coal Ash Threatens At Least 137 Sites In 34 States

A new study by three top environmental groups reveals another 39 coal ash threats in 21 states, bringing the total number of known coal ash threats to 137 in 34 states.  

The report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club details the newly identified slurry ponds and impoundments filled with toxic coal ash that threaten drinking water supplies and public health at sites around the country.  

Earlier this year the groups identified 31 coal ash disposal sites in 14 states, adding to the 67 sites already identified by the Environmental Protection Agency.  The latest report brings the total number to 137 sites where coal ash threatens public health and water supplies. 

The U.S. EPA is currently grappling with how to regulate the toxic coal ash threat, which is now checked only by individual state laws that have failed to adequately protect the public from this growing problem.

Adding even more evidence that “clean coal” is an industry fairy tale, coal-fired power plants around the country stockpile the toxic coal waste left over from the coal combustion process in ponds and impoundments far too often located dangerously close to drinking water supplies and residential communities.  

The report notes:
“In several cases (e.g., Hatfield’s Ferry (PA), Gallatin (TN), and Johnsonville (TN)), [coal combustion waste] disposal sites are leaking their toxic cargo into rivers just upstream from intakes for public water systems.” 

The most egregious example of poor siting belongs to Massey Energy’s multi-billion gallon coal sludge impoundment, perched directly above the Marsh Fork elementary school in West Virginia.  Yes, a massive pool of dirty toxic coal waste perched above toddlers’ heads.  Great idea Massey!  (Thanks to a generous $2.5 million donation from the Annenberg Foundation, the school will soon be rebuilt in a new location.  Just in time too, since Massey had planned to build yet another coal silo near the school. The relocation will cost an estimated $8.5 million, relying mostly on state, county and local donations, with Massey agreeing to pay only $1 million.  The Annenberg contribution ensures the relocation will now move forward.)  

EPA will be hearing an earful about coal ash over the next month as seven public hearings are held in various cities to solicit public input on the coal ash regulations.  Utility industry and coal ash interests promise they will be out in force at these hearings.

An intense lobbying push by the coal and utility industries over the past year has put tremendous pressure on EPA to cave to industry demands and leave the issue up to individual states.  

Rather than spending money to clean up its toxic mess, the industry’s aggressive multi-million dollar K Street strategy threatens to undermine the critical need for strong coal ash regulations to protect water supplies and public health.


It was a subsidiary of Massey Energy that had a 300 million gallon coal ash slurry spill ten years ago. The EPA called it the worst environmental disaster in southeastern U.S. history. It was from a coal processing plant in Kentucky. The water of 27,000 people was contaminated. A plume of sludge extented 75 miles to the Ohio River.

There was an investigation by MSHA that was squelched after Bush’s election. The investigators were ready to proceed with 8 serious violations, with possible criminal charges. The lead investigator was reassigned, and demoted then fired.
He was replaced with another, who on the first day said he would close the investigation within a week. He later got a seat on the board of directors of Massey Energy. It probably didn’t hurt that the coal industry and Massey Energy virtually won W. Virginia for Republicans in an upset victory, after contributing heavily to the campaign.
Massey Energy got off with a $55,000 fine.