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Contamination from Coal Ash at Some Sites High Enough to Trigger ‘Open Dumping’ RCRA Provisions

A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) claims 33 coal ash dump sites in 19 states are contaminating groundwater with arsenic, lead and other toxins. According to EIP, these sites may be violating a federal ban on open dumping.

EIP found levels of groundwater contamination at 33 coal ash landfills or impoundments nationwide that are high enough to trigger the "open dumping" provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Based on a review of recent (though limited) groundwater monitoring data from state agencies, the 33 active coal ash disposal sites in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas meet the open dumping criteria for arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, fluoride, lead, mercury and selenium.

“EPA put rules in place in 1979 that should have forced closure or cleanup at contaminated sites long ago,” said EIP Director Eric Schaeffer. “Because EPA was prohibited by law from cracking down on open dumping violations, they have been largely ignored by industry, so the pollution continues to this day, and in some cases has gotten worse.”

The existing rules were adopted in 1979 under Subtitle D of RCRA. EPA is prohibited from enforcing these requirements, and states receive no funds to implement these standards. The regulations require the closure or clean-up of dumps that pollute groundwater above certain drinking water limits, unless a state can show that the contamination will not affect actual or potential sources of drinking water.

On June 21, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., approved the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act. Proposed by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act strengthens state regulatory authority over materials such as coal ash under the Solid Waste Disposal Act. The legislation would prevent the Obama administration’s attempt to reclassify these materials as a hazardous waste.

“Potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost and costs could surpass the hundred billion dollar range if the EPA is allowed to regulate coal ash as a hazardous material,” said McKinley.

Countered EIP’s Schaeffer: “Reenacting this charade by creating another ‘imaginary program’ – as the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power just did on June 21 – is pointless, and won’t do anything to protect people who live near these dumps. If Congress is going to pass another law, they ought to make it enforceable, or stop wasting taxpayers’ money on make-believe programs.”

Beyond examining possible RCRA violations, the EIP report also finds that groundwater contamination from coal ash is a long-lasting problem. One facility examined in the report stopped dumping coal ash in its landfill in 1977, but groundwater around the site reamins contaminated.

To access the full EIP report:, “Toxic Waters Run Deep: Coal Ash Open Dumps Still Open for Business?” go to

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