Coal Ash

SELC’s four-year legal effort to protect local drinking water from coal ash rose to national prominence following the devastating spill on the Dan River.


Photo © Waterkeeper Alliance

2008 Coal Waste Spill in Tennessee: The catastrophic waste spill at the TVA plant in Tennessee underscored the urgent need for regulation of coal waste.


Photo © Jerry Greer

Latest News

Testing shows high levels of arsenic in water next to leaking, unlined N.C. coal ash pits More »

New, third-party testing of water in the Yadkin River near unpermitted and illegal seeps in Duke Energy’s coal ash dams shows that the river is contaminated with arsenic levels more than four times higher than water safety standards. Arsenic is one of many toxins found in coal ash. The river water sample was taken next to Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash pits at the Buck site in Salisbury, N.C. 

Other pollutants detected in the Yadkin River include elevated levels of aluminum, copper, and lead. Complete test results can be viewed here.

Previous sampling also shows that illegal seepage that flows into the river at the base of Duke Energy’s coal ash dams contains even higher levels of arsenic—as much as five times the safety standard.  

“This is further confirmation of what Duke Energy has known for years: that coal ash pollution is leaking out of its coal ash pits and into surrounding waters,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “The Buck site is the only retired coal plant site in the state where Duke Energy has not agreed to excavate its coal ash. It’s time for Duke Energy to stop covering up its pollution at the Buck site, and start removing its coal ash from these leaking, unlined pits.” 

SELC represents the Yadkin Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance in state and federal court actions seeking to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution at its Buck site. The Buck site, where this sampling occurred, stopped burning coal for power in 2013 and continues to store massive quantities of coal ash in leaking, unlined pits next to the Yadkin River. SELC also represents conservation groups in state and federal court actions seeking to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution from 14 leaking, unlined sites across North Carolina.

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Protecting Our Water and Health from Coal Ash

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more lagoons on its banks holding slurries of coal ash from power plants. Containing hundreds of thousands of tons of toxin-laden waste, these pools are often unlined and have leaked arsenic, mercury, thallium, selenium, and other contaminants into the rivers and the underlying groundwater for years, if not decades. 

Putting a Stop to Years of Pollution

SELC is using its law and policy skills to force our region’s utilities to clean up their waste sites and store coal ash in ways that protect water quality and people's health. When state and federal governments did not act following a devastating 2008 spill in Kingston, TN, we began enforcing the law ourselves. 

In North Carolina, our lawsuits have produced cleanup commitments at seven Duke Energy sites, and SELC continues to represent a number of groups to require clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined coal ash sites across the state.

In South Carolina, a combination of legal action and public pressure from SELC prompted all three of the state’s major utilities to begin a significant cleanup to clean up leaking coal ash lagoons on South Carolina’s rivers - a historic accomplishment for clean water in South Carolina.

In Virginia, we uncovered decades of coal ash pollution leaking from two different Dominion Virginia Power sites: the Possum Point Power Plant along the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Energy Center along the Elizabeth River. SELC is working to make sure Dominion is held responsible for cleaning up these waterways. 

In Tennessee, we filed a lawsuit against Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for coal ash at the Gallatin Plant polluting the Cumberland River, which provides drinking water for 1.2 million residents downstream.  

Advocating Tougher Standards

Despite the dangers revealed by the catastrophic Kingston spill in 2008 and the 2014 Dan River spill in NC, only in 2015 did the EPA put its coal ash rule into effect. This rule establishes only a bare minimum of protection, so we will continue to enforce stronger federal and state clean water and anti-pollution laws to protect rivers and communities from the dangers of coal ash.

Is There a Coal Ash Waste Site Near You?

To help Southerners find out more about risks to their communities, SELC and its partners launched, a website that provides an interactive map and database of 100 coal ash impoundments.