New Interactive Web Tool Gives Details About Southeast’s Toxic Coal Ash
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices, Southern Environmental Law Center, and NC Conservation Network today launched the first-ever comprehensive online tool that allows Southerners 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 advocate for strong federal safeguards.
Nine southeastern states are covered by the site, which is being launched four years after a massive coal ash dam in Kingston, Tenn. catastrophically failed. The disaster released a billion-gallon flood 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.
“The Southeast has almost 450 impoundments holding roughly 118 billion gallons ash that threatens our waterways and communities,” said Sandra Diaz with Appalachian Voices. “Some of these ash ponds are veritable man-made lakes full of toxic compounds that could wreak untold damage if dams failed. SoutheastCoalAsh.org offers concerned citizens a new and easy way to learn if their community or drinking water source is in danger from these largely unregulated coal ash impoundments.”
The website 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 the Environmental Protection Agency. A brief glance at the map shows 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 at those sites. Moreover, many of the plants lack adequate water monitoring data to show whether contamination problems exist.
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 impoundments, much to the detriment of drinking and recreational waters,” said Ulla Reeves with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “SoutheastCoalAsh.org provides citizens with the information and tools to communicate directly with EPA and their Congressional Representatives to ask for greater urgency in providing federal protection from toxic coal ash.”
Visitors to SoutheastCoalAsh.org can view the information in a variety of ways — an interactive map, aerial photos showing visually the location of coal ash ponds to water resources, fact sheets, tables — and can search for information by zip code, name of power plant, map, quantity of coal ash, name of waterway.
The site 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 the visitor 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 to contact about that plant, as well as other local, state, regional and federal actions citizens can take.
Alabama – 44 coal ash ponds; Four of the state’s nine coal-fired power plants have yet to be inspected for dam safety, and three of the five plants that have been inspected are rated high or significant hazard.
Florida – 73 coal ash ponds; Of Florida’s 12 coal-fired power plants, only one has ash impoundments that have received a hazard rating. This does not mean that the unrated dams pose no threats to human and environmental health, only that the EPA was unable to obtain the necessary information from utilities about these impoundments.
Georgia – 41 coal ash ponds; Seven of the state’s 11 plants have been rated by the EPA for dam safety; all but one of these were found to pose a significant or high hazard to nearby communities and waterways.
Kentucky – 85 coal ash ponds; Kentucky has more coal-fired power plants than any other state in the Southeast, and ranks 5th in the nation for the amount of coal ash generated, according to an EPA and Department of Energy report.
Mississippi – 18 coal ash ponds;
North Carolina – 50 coal ash ponds; North Carolina has more high hazard coal ash impoundments than any state in the Southeast, with over half the state’s coal plants having at least one high hazard dam. North Carolina’s own dam safety inspection ratings show more high hazard dams — all but four of the state’s 14 coal fired power plants are considered high hazard by the state, according to North Carolina’s Dam Safety Engineering Division.
South Carolina – 50 coal ash ponds; Only one of the state’s 12 coal fired power plants has had its dams inspected by the EPA.
Tennessee – 44 coal ash ponds; All of the state’s eight plants have either significant or high-hazard dams. Despite being found liable for the 2008 coal ash spill by a federal court, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the Kingston power plant and coal ash impoundment, recently ended efforts to dredge Emory River and are now allowing for natural processes to take place. TVA agreed to conduct annual monitoring of 200 acres for 30 years. Almost 9 percent of the 1 billion gallons of coal ash remains in the river, according to official estimates.
Virginia – 32 coal ash ponds; Only five of Virginia’s 13 power plants have been inspected for dam safety by the EPA.