EPA Takes Steps to Protect Groundwater from Coal Ash Contamination

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on January 11 it is taking several actions to protect communities and hold facilities accountable for controlling and cleaning up the contamination created by decades of coal ash disposal.

Coal combustion residuals (CCR or coal ash), a byproduct of burning coal in coal-fired power plants, contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium, and arsenic that without proper management can pollute groundwater, drinking water, and the air.

The actions include:

  • Proposing decisions on requests for extensions to the current deadline for initiating closure of unlined CCR surface impoundments
  • Putting several facilities on notice regarding their obligations to comply with CCR regulations
  • Laying out plans for future regulatory actions to ensure coal ash impoundments meet strong environmental and safety standards.

“I’ve seen firsthand how coal ash contamination can hurt people and communities,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said. “Coal ash surface impoundments and landfills must operate and close in a manner that protects public health and the environment. For too long, communities already disproportionately impacted by high levels of pollution have been burdened by improper coal ash disposal.”

The EPA’s regulations required most of the approximately 500 unlined coal ash surface impoundments nationwide to stop receiving waste and begin closure by April 2021. The regulations outlined a process for facilities to apply for two types of extensions to the closure deadline.

The agency announced it has received 57 applications and made determinations on four, conditionally approving one.

The EPA is also notifying some facilities where the agency has information concerning the possible presence of issues that could impact health and the environment. Concerns outlined in separate letters include improper groundwater monitoring, insufficient clean-up information, and the regulation of inactive surface impoundments. The EPA is also ensuring facilities comply with the current CCR regulations by working with state partners to investigate compliance concerns at coal ash facilities across the country.

The EPA is requesting public comment for 30 days on the proposed determinations. Click here for a list of the individual determinations and how to comment.