Utilities Admit Coal Plants in 22 States are Violating Federal and State Pollution Standards by Leaking Toxic Chemicals into Groundwater

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Conservation Groups Seek a Court Order to Stop New Trump Rule from Delaying Closure of Leaking Toxic Coal Ash Dumps

Numerous utilities have just disclosed that toxic waste from 67 coal-fired power plants have led to harmful amounts of chemicals in nearby groundwater in excess of state and/or federal standards in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming (see list of plant locations below and here). On December 14, Earthjustice discovered the admissions made on major utilities’ websites. The information was buried on company websites, and only someone knowing what to look for could discover the notices.

The companies that made the admissions include Duke Energy, Southern Company, Alabama Power, Ameren, APS, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Big Rivers Electric Corporation, Dominion, Georgia Power, Golden Valley Electric Association, Grand Haven Board of Light and Power, Gulf Power, Jacksonville Electric Authority, Lakeland Electric, LG&E (KU), Mississippi Power, NRG, PacifiCorp, Talen Energy, and Westar.

This news illustrates that we still haven’t solved the problem of coal ash as we approach the 10-year anniversary of the Kingston coal ash spill—one of the worst environmental disasters in our history. On Saturday, a memorial service will be held in Harriman, Tennessee, to honor the sacrifice of the more than 30 workers who died following the cleanup of toxic ash and more than 200 workers who are suffering injuries as a result of the cleanup. Just this fall, flood waters from hurricane Florence carried toxic chemicals from a Duke Energy coal ash landfill into a lake in North Carolina.

The utilities’ announcements indicate the contamination is severe enough at all 67 coal plants to require cleanups pursuant to the 2015 coal ash rule. Yet the Trump administration delayed the closure of many of these leaking toxic dumps in a rule finalized last July, putting people’s health at risk. Representing a coalition of environmental and health advocates, Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club have challenged the rollbacks in the D.C Circuit, following that court’s August decision that EPA must strengthen—not weaken—federal coal ash protections. Yesterday, the groups asked the court to strike down EPA’s unlawful delay of the deadlines for the most dangerous coal ash impoundments to close.

Thanks to the current coal ash rule, which is still in effect, owners of coal plants must disclose when they are exceeding federal limits on groundwater contamination of the worst toxins, like arsenic, chromium, lead, and radioactivity. It’s expected that many more coal plants across the nation will soon join the 67 that have issued the disclosure.

Violating federal levels of these dangerous chemicals in groundwater near coal ash dumps mean utilities have to start immediately preparing cleanup plans to restore groundwater to its original condition—free of the harmful chemicals. Never before have coal plants been required by federal law to clean up their groundwater.

Lisa Evans, Senior Counsel, Earthjustice and a former attorney with the EPA, stated, “For the first time, utilities have admitted that they’ve violated federal and state groundwater standards by polluting our water with toxic coal pollution. It is long past time for coal plants to clean up the toxic mess they’ve made. But instead of moving to protect people from cancer, the Trump administration wants to allow these polluters to escape their cleanup responsibilities. This Christmas gift to the coal industry must be stopped. The price tag is too steep.”

“Naturally clean drinking water is a rare and precious resource; if a polluter contaminates groundwater, that polluter should have to restore groundwater quality,” said Abel Russ, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. “The coal ash rule is designed to accomplish that goal. Now that we have statistical proof of widespread contamination—a threat we’ve been trying to draw attention to for years—we are very much looking forward to the restoration process.”

The admission by the utilities confirms the widespread contamination that Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project have warned about in a series of reports on coal ash waste. Earthjustice has been involved in advocating for protections from coal ash waste for years. The coal ash disposal rules enacted in 2015 were a result of a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, and the organization has sued to defend the rule from an effort to gut it by the Trump administration.

"Groundwater is not only a drinking water source for many people—it also often flows directly into waterways," said Larissa Liebmann, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. "Now that these companies finally admitted they are causing this contamination, they need to take action immediately to clean up their toxic messes."

These leaking coal ash ponds should have been cleaned up years ago, said Jennifer Peters, National Water Programs Director at Clean Water Action. Instead these utilities, emboldened by the Trump administration's pro-industry, pro-polluter agenda, continue to put communities and groundwater at risk, despite the known hazards of storing toxic coal ash waste in unlined pits.

Tim Maloney, senior policy director at Hoosier Environmental Council, said, "These groundwater contamination notices, from Duke Energy itself, are further confirmation that the coal ash lagoons at Duke's Indiana power plants are contaminating groundwater and should be cleaned up promptly. There is simply no reason for further delay." 

Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center added, “It’s long past time that utilities in the Southeast move their coal ash from unlined leaking pits next to our rivers to safe, dry, lined storage.  We don’t need more Kingston and Dan River disasters, and we don’t need any more toxic and radioactive pollution of our clean water and drinking water supplies.”

"Every coal-fired power plant in Missouri has identifiable coal ash contamination in groundwater surrounding disposal sites because most of them are sitting in or just below the groundwater table. Toxic coal ash will continue indefinitely to seep out of the ponds and contaminate Missouri's groundwater and nearby surface waters—polluting both downgradient and upgradient wells," shared Patricia Schuba, President of Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO), a citizen-led nonprofit fighting coal ash pollution. "We believe the risk is actually higher than what the utilities have been forced to report."

"Coal ash has been dumped in the groundwater at the Lincoln Stone Quarry, next to residences and the Des Plaines River, for far too long. We hope this disclosure will lead to NRG cleaning up this polluted and dangerous coal ash dump," said Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer at Prairie Rivers Network. "Sadly, the Lincoln Stone Quarry is not the only coal ash dump with unsafe concentrations of toxic pollutants in Illinois. A recent report showed the extensive impact of coal ash on groundwater in Illinois, finding that many other Illinois coal ash sites are also exceeding limits on dangerous pollutants and should be cleaned up."

List of Plants Where Coal-Ash Contaminated Groundwater Exceeds Allowable State and/or Federal Limits

This table lists 67 plants whose owners have posted notifications that the groundwater exceeds state and/or federal limits of contamination for one or more of the following toxic substances: Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Lead, Lithium, Molybdenum, Selenium, Thallium, and Radium 226 and 228 combined.

In addition, if the unit is a coal ash pond, the table indicates whether the ash pond is lined and whether the pond violates the federal aquifer separation standard, which requires five feet of separation from the base of the pond to the underlying groundwater. Cleanup assessments are required within 60 days at all sites, but owners/operators may attempt to show that an alternative source is responsible for the contamination.

 

Name of Plant

Owner/

Operator

City

State

Cleanup Required Due to Groundwater Contamination Above Limits

Contamination Found Above Federal and/or State Groundwater Limits

Presence

or Absence

of Liner

Aquifer Separation

Standard Compliance

Healy Power Plant

Golden Valley Electric Association

Healy

AK

Yes

Antimony, arsenic, lithium, molybdenum, and selenium

Unlined

No location information

Barry

Alabama  Power

Bucks

 AL

Yes      

Arsenic, cobalt

Unlined

Non-compliance

E.C. Gaston

Alabama Power

Wilsonville

 AL

Yes

Arsenic, cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Gorgas

Alabama Power

Parrish

 AL

Yes

Arsenic, lithium, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Green County

Alabama Power

Demopolis

 AL

Yes

Arsenic, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

James H. Miller

Alabama Power

Quinton

 AL

Yes

Arsenic, cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Cholla Power Plant

APS

Joseph City

AZ

Yes

Arsenic, Cobalt, Fluoride, Lithium, Molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Crystal River

Duke Energy

Crystal River

 FL

Yes

Arsenic, lithium, molybdenum, radium 226 and radium 228

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

Crist

Gulf Power

Pensacola

 FL

Yes

Cobalt, mercury, molybdenum, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

St. John’s River Power Park

Jacksonville Electric Authority

Jacksonville

FL

Yes

Radium 226 and radium 228

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

C.D. McIntosh

Lakeland Electric

Lakeland

FL

Yes

Radium 226 and radium 228

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

Lansing Smith

Gulf Power

Southport

 FL

Yes

Arsenic, lithium, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

Bowen

GA Power

Cartersville

 GA

Yes

Cobalt, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Hammond

GA Power

Rome

 GA

Yes      

Arsenic, cobalt, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

McIntosh

GA Power

Rincon

 GA

Yes

Cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Scherer

GA Power

Juliette

 GA

Yes

Cobalt

Unlined

Non-compliance

Wansley

GA Power

Roopville

 GA

Yes

Lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Yates

GA Power

Newman

 GA

Yes

Beryllium

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

George Neal South

Berkshire Hathaway Energy

Salix

 IA

Yes

Arsenic

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

Lincoln Stone Quarry

NRG

Joliet

 IL

Yes      

Arsenic, lithium, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Cayuga

Duke Energy

Cayuga

 IN

Yes

Arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, lithium, selenium, thallium, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

Gibson

Duke Energy

Owensville

 IN

Yes

Arsenic, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Gallagher

Duke Energy

New Albany

 IN

Yes

Arsenic, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Jeffrey Energy Center

Westar Energy

St. Mary’s

KS

Yes

Not specified.

Unknown

N/A  (landfill)

East Bend

Duke Energy

Union

 KY

Yes

Lithium

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

EW Brown

Kentucky Utilities

Harrodsburg

 KY

Yes

Lithium, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Ghent

Kentucky Utilities

Ghent

 KY

Yes

Lithium, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Trimble County

LG&E

Bedford

 KY

Yes

Arsenic, lithium, molybdenum, selenium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Mill Creek

LG&E

Louisville

 KY

Yes

Molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

D.B. Wilson Station

Big Rivers Electric Corp.

Centertown

KY

Yes

Cobalt

Unlined

Non-compliance

Sebree Station

Big Rivers Electric Corp.

Robards

KY

Yes

Lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

J.B. Sims Plant

Grand Haven Board of Light and Power

Grand Haven

MI

Yes

Cobalt, fluoride, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Labadie

Ameren

Labadie

 MO

Yes

Molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Meramec

Ameren

St. Louis

 MO

Yes

Arsenic, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Rush Island

Ameren

Festus

 MO

Yes      

Arsenic, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Sioux

Ameren

West Alton

 MO

Yes

Molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

John Twitty Energy Center

City Utilities of Springfield

Springfield

 MO

Yes

Antimony

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

Victor J. Daniel

MS Power

Escatawpa

 MS

Yes

[unavailable]

Unlined

Non-compliance

Colstrip

Talen Energy

Colstrip

 MT

Yes

Cobalt, lithium, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

Asheville

Duke Energy

Arden

 NC

Yes

Cobalt, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

Four Corners Power Plant

APS

Fruitland

NM

Yes

Cobalt fluoride, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Belews Creek

Duke Energy

Belews Creek

 NC

Yes

Arsenic, beryllium, cobalt, lithium, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

Buck

Duke Energy

Salisbury

 NC

Yes

Cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Cliffside

Duke Energy

Cliffside

 NC

Yes      

Arsenic, cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Dan River

Duke Energy

Eden

 NC

Yes

Arsenic, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

H.F. Lee

Duke Energy

Goldsboro

 NC

Yes

Arsenic, cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

LV Sutton

Duke Energy

Wilmington

 NC

Yes      

Arsenic, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Marshall

Duke Energy

Terrell

 NC

Yes

Arsenic, beryllium, cobalt, lithium, thallium, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

Roxboro

Duke Energy

Semora

 NC

Yes

Arsenic cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, selenium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Weatherspoon

Duke Energy

Robeson County

 NC

Yes

Arsenic, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

Brunner Island

Talen Energy

York Haven

 PA

Yes

Arsenic, lithium, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Montour

Talen Energy

Washingtonville

 PA

Yes

Cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

H B Robinson

Duke Energy

Hartsville

 SC

Yes

Arsenic, lithium, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

WS Lee

Duke Energy

Williamston

 SC

Yes

Antimony, beryllium, cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Intermountain Power Project

Intermountain Power Service Corp

Delta

 UT

Yes      

Arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum

Unlined

Non-compliance

Hunter

PacifiCorp

Castle Dale

 UT

Yes

Cobalt, lithium, molybdenum

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

Huntington

PacifiCorp

Huntington

 UT

Yes

Cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, selenium

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

Bremo Bluff

Dominion Energy

Bremo Bluff

 VA

Yes

Lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Chesterfield

Dominion Energy

Chester

 VA

Yes

Arsenic, cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Non-compliance

Clover

Dominion Energy

Clover

 VA

Yes

Cobalt

Unlined

Compliance

Possum Point

Dominion Energy

Dumfries

 VA

Yes

Cobalt, lithium

Unlined

Non-compliance

Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center

Dominion Energy

St. Paul

 VA

Yes      

Lithium

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

Yorktown

Dominion Energy

Yorktown

 VA

Yes

Cobalt

Unknown

N/A (landfill)

Mt. Storm

Dominion Energy

Mount Storm

 WV

Yes

Fluoride, molybdenum

Unlined / Lined

Compliance

Dave Johnston

PacifiCorp

Glen Rock

 WY

Yes

Arsenic, cadmium, molybdenum, radium 226 and radium 228

Unlined

Compliance

Jim Bridger

PacifiCorp

Point of Rocks

 WY

Yes

Arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, fluoride, lead, lithium, molybdenum, radium 226 and radium 228, selenium

Unlined

N/A

Naughton

PacifiCorp

Kemmerer

 WY

Yes

Cobalt, lithium, radium 226 and radium 228, selenium

Unlined

N/A

 

 

Michael Kelly
202.895.0420x103