What is Coal Ash?

What is Coal Ash?

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal combustion and contains high levels of harmful heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and selenium. Stored in ash pits, also known as ponds, coal ash is leaching into our streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Contaminants from coal ash are a serious public health hazard and can increase the risk of cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders, among other medical problems.

Coal ash ponds are also prone to collapse, as happened near Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 when over 1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry spilled into the Clinch and Emory Rivers.  More recently, the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history occurred early in February 2014 when a Duke Energy coal ash pit in North Carolina breached and released up to 27 million gallons of polluted water and over 82,000 tons of ash. Unfortunately, environmental catastrophes such as this are becoming more frequent, and people in Illinois are paying close attention.

Threat to Your Health

Illinois has over 100 coal ash ponds and mine-fills that leach toxic chemicals to groundwater, lakes and rivers, where pollution can spread, polluting drinking water supplies and threatening fish and wildlife.

When groundwater near Illinois’ 24 coal-fired power plants was tested, coal ash contamination was found at EVERY single site.

Living near coal ash impoundments increases risk to serious medical problems, such as:

  • Birth defects
  • Neurological damage
  • Reproductive issues
  • Tumors and cancer

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, your chance of getting cancer from water contaminated by coal ash is 1 in 50!


The Illinois EPA has proposed regulations for coal ash storage; however, the proposed rules fall short of protecting surface waters, groundwater and drinking water supplies.

You can tell the Illinois Pollution Control Board to pass the strongest rules possible to protect Illinois’ environment and communities by signing this petition by our friends at Prairie Rivers Network: http://bit.ly/1hdXwdr


Coal Ash Dump Site, Joliet Illinois – Photo by Eco-Justice Collaborative

Background Reports

Fact Sheets and Talking Points

Fact Sheet (Overview)
Talking Points

Duck Creek
Will County

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