Alabama Utilities Confirm Pollution of Groundwater, Stability Problems with Unlined Coal Ash Pits

Birmingham, AL—As Alabama Power, TVA and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative’s coal ash ponds continue to pollute groundwater throughout the state, recent filings show that most—if not all— ponds are less than five feet from the uppermost aquifer, or potentially in the aquifer, and are located in seismic impact zones. 

In order to comply with the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule (CCR), utilities are required to report findings as to whether their coal ash lagoons meet nationwide standards for stability, aquifers, wetlands, seismic, and fault requirements.

Alabama Power has posted filings for its Barry, Gaston, Gorgas, Greene County and Miller CCR facilities. PowerSouth’s filings cover its Lowman facility. TVA has not posted filings for its Colbert and Widows Creek facilities, although both of these sites have shown significant groundwater contamination in the past.

Every existing Alabama Power and PowerSouth coal ash site in the state is polluting the groundwater, according to the utilities’ filings in March and November of this year. The filings show exceedances of acceptable levels of arsenic, cobalt and selenium at Plant Barry; arsenic, lead, radium, lithium and molybdenum at Plant Gaston; arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lithium and molybdenum at Plant Gorgas; arsenic, lithium and selenium at Plant Greene County; arsenic, cobalt and lithium at Plant Miller; and arsenic and beryllium at Plant Lowman. 

The utility filings also show that the base of every existing coal ash pond is located within five feet of the uppermost aquifer.  In some instances, coal ash may be sitting in the groundwater or much closer than five feet.  Furthermore, the ash ponds at Gaston, Gorgas, Greene County and Miller are located in seismic impact zones, with stability problems also reported at Plant Gaston, which is located on karst topography. 

Despite confirmation of the significant risks of storing coal ash in dangerous, leaking, and polluting pits, Alabama Power, TVA and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative are planning to leave ash in place at all sites in Alabama rather than excavating and removing it to dry, lined landfills; however, the utilities can still make a decision to move these sources of contamination at their most vulnerable sites. 

“With confirmed groundwater pollution at every coal ash site throughout Alabama, doubling down on plans to allow this pollution to remain in place forever does nothing to protect Alabama communities,” said Keith Johnston, managing attorney of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Birmingham office. “As utilities in neighboring states are taking action to excavate their ash, Alabama utilities continue to forgo any meaningful clean-up of these sources of pollution despite these alarming findings.”

“As suspected, Alabama Power’s ash pond at Plant Barry is too close to groundwater,” said Casi Callaway, Executive Director of Mobile Baykeeper. “This data continues to prove that leaving coal ash in the middle of the Mobile Tensaw Delta will not protect public health, the environment, or our economy.  We are counting on Alabama Power to make the best decision for Alabamians, dig up the ash, and move it to a safe, lined landfill away from our rivers.”

 

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About Southern Environmental Law Center: For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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