Study Finds Coal Ash Tainting Groundwater Near Most U.S. Coal Plants

A study released by environmental groups on March 4 says more than 90 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants show unsafe levels of toxic metals near their coal ash dumps.

The study’s findings indicated 241 of the 265 plants, or 91 percent, subject to the monitoring requirement showed unsafe levels of one or more coal ash components in nearby groundwater compared to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, according to Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice.

These environmental groups said their findings show potential harm to drinking water from coal ash and make the case stronger regulations are necessary.

The study also found 52 percent of those plants had unsafe levels of cancer-causing arsenic in nearby groundwater, while 60 percent showed unsafe levels of lithium, which can cause neurological damage.

Data reviewed by the environmental groups came from 4600 groundwater monitoring wells near the coal ash dumps of two-thirds of the coal-fired power plants in the United States.

Coal ash is the residue produced from burning coal in coal-fired plants and is stored at power plants throughout the country.

In July 2018, the EPA revised the 2015 rule that established minimum national standards for the disposal of coal ash, including a requirement companies monitor groundwater and publish their data. The revised rule suspended groundwater monitoring requirements at coal ash sites if it is deemed there is no potential for pollutants to move into certain aquifers. The rule also extended the life of some coal ash ponds from early 2019 to late 2020.

The coal ash rule does not require tests of local drinking water.