The Environmental Integrity Project developed Ashtracker to help the public access detailed information about groundwater contamination near areas used to dispose of ash, scrubber sludge or other wastes from coal-burning power plants. This website allows citizens to find monitoring wells at these sites and review data on specific concentrations of pollutants such as arsenic, selenium and lead that have accumulated in groundwater above federal drinking water standards and advisories.
About Coal Ash
Coal ash is one of the largest industrial waste streams in the United States. Each year, coal plants generate over 100 million tons of ash, most of which is dumped, untreated, into landfills and ponds. The U.S. EPA has determined that at least 157 of these disposal sites have contaminated groundwater and/or surface water.
Coal ash contains a toxic mix of pollutants that can cause cancer and other health effects, and these pollutants frequently migrate into local groundwater at dramatically unsafe levels. Arsenic, a known carcinogen, has been found at levels more than 50 times higher than what the EPA considers safe. Manganese, a neurotoxin, has exceeded safe levels by more than 200-fold. These and the other pollutants in the Ashtracker database commonly occur in mixtures that present a cumulative risk much greater than the risk of each individual pollutant.
Although groundwater contamination from coal ash is widespread, groundwater quality data can be hard to find. This site is designed to make it easier for the public to get data on actual pollution levels around coal ash disposal sites.
Many states require facilities to monitor groundwater and submit copies of the results to state agencies. To obtain this information, EIP submits requests to these agencies pursuant to state "Right to Know" laws. This process can be long and expensive - requiring fees to agencies and document delivery services. A handful of states - such as Florida and Louisiana - provide this information online. But navigating these systems can be difficult if requestors are not certain what they are looking for or how the information is filed. Ashtracker is designed to bridge this gap and make public information accessible to concerned citizens.
Please note that groundwater monitoring wells are usually located on power plant property, and the actual risk to neighboring communities will depend on distance to drinking water sources, the direction and rate of groundwater flow, and other factors. Many facilities are located near large bodies of water and contaminants may end up in the rivers and streams, where they present new risks as they accumulate in sediment and the food chain and migrate downstream.
Once EIP obtains raw data from state agencies, it is entered into a large database that provides the backbone for the Ashtracker visual interface and statistical summaries. Ashtracker summarizes data available at each monitoring well and indicates whether values exceeded health-based federal drinking water standards and advisories. The site also provides a link to spreadsheets with the underlying values for citizens to examine or use as a basis for their own analyses. The data for many sites may be incomplete, often because state agencies do not always require monitoring of all of the pollutants most likely to leak into groundwater from coal ash sites.
While EIP has been meticulous in its efforts to identify data entry errors, this work is done by actual humans, and it is possible that errors are present. If you would like an electronic copy of any original document we used in this project, or suspect that you have identified an error, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-296-8800 and we will send you the documents.
Ashtracker is built on a dataset compiled from monitoring records dating back to 2010. This range will expand as EIP continues to process new and existing groundwater data.
Accessing Raw Data
Ashtracker provides access to raw (transcribed) data. The information in these downloads provides the backbone for our summary data and allows users to do their own analyses.
Disclaimer: Please note that data in Ashtracker has been manually entered or transferred from original data sources by EIP staff. While we have worked hard to make sure to avoid presenting erroneous information, errors may be present. If you suspect that raw data in the data downloads is erroneous, please notify us at once via email or call 202-296-8800.