In a presentation to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, Alabama Rivers Alliance will outline the opportunity to fix the problem and protect rivers and drinking water
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A number of coal ash waste sites in Alabama are operating under expired permits that have been extended for years without being updated, according to state records. And with new national safeguards for coal ash disposal poised to be finalized this month, the Alabama Rivers Alliance is calling on Alabama’s Environmental Management Commission to bring these facilities up to date in ways that truly protect drinking water and public health.
“With as many toxic chemicals as we know there are in coal ash, and with so many disposal sites sitting next to rivers that provide Alabama families and communities with drinking water, we can’t let this pollution go unaccounted for any longer,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. “There’s far too much at risk.”
Every year, Alabama’s nine coal plants generate 3.2 million tons of coal ash waste, which is dumped into 44 lagoons and landfills across the state. These storage ponds discharge millions of gallons of water tainted with toxins such as arsenic, selenium, mercury and chromium into Alabama’s rivers and water supplies every day. Permits that allow these discharges have expired for many of Alabama’s coal ash waste sites – at least one as long as seven years ago. When permits have been renewed, it was done administratively by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, without public input and failing to consider any new pollution limits that have been added to protect water and people.
Now, however, the state has an opportunity to address the problem. New EPA rules on coal ash storage, announced in December include guidelines for issues like dam safety, groundwater monitoring, clean-up of spills and accidents, liners to prevent contamination and leaks, and closing waste sites that don’t meet minimum safety requirements. New EPA limits for coal ash discharges are slated to be finalized this fall.
On Friday, the Alabama Rivers Alliance is on the agenda to speak to the seven-member Alabama Environmental Management Commission at its meeting in Montgomery, which directs policy for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the agency in charge of regulating coal ash in the state. (The meeting is open to the public and begins at 11 a.m. in the main conference room of the ADEM building, 1400 Coliseum Blvd.) Program director Mitch Reid will present an overview of the new coal ash rules and the importance of using them as a starting point for bringing water permits up to date and ensuring that storage methods meet modern safety standards.
“Up to now, Alabama has not taken the problem of coal ash seriously,” said Reid. “We now have an opportunity to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect families and businesses downstream of these coal ash sites and their massive volumes of toxic waste. The state can do the right thing.”
As data show (see map), numerous communities in Alabama are situated downstream from coal ash waste sites, and, in some cases, their drinking water supplies are at risk from accidents, spills or contamination seeping into rivers.
Coal ash from the Gadsden Steam Plant, for example, is dumped into a disposal site less than a mile upstream of the drinking water intake for the Gadsden Water Works, which serves roughly 100,000 residents. The plant’s disposal permit expired in 2008. The Gaston Steam Plant in Wilsonville discharges coal ash waste into a pond about 5 miles upstream of a major drinking water intake for Shelby County Water Services and the 200,000 people it serves.
The Southeast in particular has a notorious coal ash legacy. Nearly six years ago, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash dam failed, spilling 1.1 billion gallons of sludge into the Emory River, the biggest toxic coal ash waste catastrophe in U.S. history. Closer to home and less than a month later, a wet storage coal ash pond spilled approximately 10,000 gallons of coal ash waste into Widows Creek, which feeds into the Tennessee River, near Stevenson, Ala. And just one year ago, and impoundment failure at Duke Energy’s Dan River power plant dumped more than 32 tons of coal ash waste and 24 million gallons of waste water into North Carolina’s Dan River.
A high resolution copy of the map compiling coal ash sites in Alabama is available online at:
About the Alabama Rivers Alliance
The Alabama Rivers Alliance is Alabama’s statewide, nonprofit river protection organization. Our purpose is to protect & restore Alabama’s rivers. To do this, we advocate smart water policy, organize at the grassroots level, and teach citizens how they can protect their water. We are privately funded and accomplish our mission with the financial support of people like you. Our goal is to achieve healthy rivers, healthy people, and a healthy system of government for the state of Alabama.
More information at