New Interactive Web Tool Gives Citizens Detailed Info about South Carolina’s Toxic Coal Ash
Today Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices, Southern Environmental Law Center, and NC Conservation Network launched the first-ever comprehensive online tool that allows South Carolinians to find specific information about coal ash impoundments near them. The site, www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org, includes information on the health threats associated with this toxic waste from coal-fired power plants, safety ratings of the coal ash impoundments, and how citizens can take action to call on the Environmental Protection Agency for proper coal ash regulation.
South Carolina is one of nine states covered by the site, which is being launched four years after a massive coal ash dam in Kingston, Tenn. catastrophically failed, releasing a billion-gallon wave of coal ash that poisoned some 300 acres, destroyed two dozen homes and filled the Emory River with toxic sludge. The coalition developed the website to call greater attention to the lurking dangers of coal ash in the South, where nearly 450 impoundments hold roughly 118 billion gallons of the toxic waste.
“Coal ash is a threat to our natural resources in South Carolina. We are working especially hard to convince Santee Cooper to move the 650,000 tons of coal ash that it is storing in unlined pits on the Waccamaw River in Conway, leaking arsenic into our waters,” stated Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Our rivers and our communities will be safe only when coal ash is moved away from the rivers, stored in a dry state in properly lined disposal facilities.”
The site features an interactive map and database of 100 coal-fired power plants in the Southeast, color-coded by the amount of damage each would inflict if the coal ash dams were to break, according to EPA. A brief glance at the map shows just how much more work needs to be done to assess these dangers – almost half of the plants in the Southeast have inadequate data for EPA to properly assess the coal ash dams on site. Moreover, many of the plants lack adequate water monitoring data to show whether contamination problems exist at these sites.
The website reveals that in South Carolina, only one of the state’s twelve coal fired power plants has had its dams inspected by EPA. Notably, of those dams that are rated in the Southeast, nearly one-third are “high hazard,” meaning that a dam failure like Kingston would likely cause fatalities.
“It’s been over four years since EPA promised to properly regulate coal ash, but it remains an unregulated toxic waste largely stored in unlined holding lagoons, much to the detriment of South Carolina’s drinking and recreational waters,” said Frank Holleman. “SoutheastCoalAsh.org offers concerned citizens a new way to learn about coal plants near their homes and in their communities that may have dangerous coal ash storage lagoons.”
“We need resources like this website because there has not been enough ways for people to get information about the serious dangers surrounding coal ash lagoons,” stated Christine Ellis, Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER with Winyah Rivers Foundation. “The Waccamaw River is threatened by two coal ash ponds at Santee Cooper’s Grainger Plant in Conway, our Rivertown. Located in the river’s wetlands, the unlined ponds are immediately adjacent to Conway’s City Marina used by fishermen and boaters, in close proximity to our local treasure, the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, and upstream of the facility that treats our community’s drinking water.”
The new website features more than a dozen informational pages detailing the health and environmental hazards of coal ash as well as the current legislative and regulatory environment, active legal battles, links to additional articles, news and more. Every coal-fired power plant in the Southeast has a site-specific page, accessible from the interactive map. One click takes you deeper into the data about each plant to find out if there are any known contamination problems at the coal ash impoundment(s) on site, local action groups you can contact about that plant, as well as other local, state, and regional/federal actions citizens can take.