Coal Ash

Alabama Power Barry Steam Plant Coal Ash Pond. In December 2008, a coal ash impoundment in Kingston, TN, experienced a catastrophic failure, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry, contaminating more than 300 acres of land and both the Emory and Clinch rivers, and destroying local infrastructure. In response, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated the Coals Combustion Residuals (or CCR) Assessment Program in 2009, which assessed the structural integrity of over 500 coal ash impoundments nationwide. In 2015, the EPA Administrator signed the final Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals (or CCR) Rule.

The CCR Rule regulated coal ash (deferring a determination of its status as “hazardous” or “nonhazardous,”) and required any existing CCR surface impoundment contaminating groundwater above a regulated standard to stop receiving CCR and to either retrofit or close. It also required the closure of any facility unable to meet the required location restrictions or structural integrity standards. Location restrictions on coal ash pons include those located:

  • Within five feet of the uppermost aquifer,
  • Within wetlands,
  • Within 200 feet of active fault zones,
  • In seismic impact zones, or
  • In geologically unstable areas.

Since 1965, south Alabama’s James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant has disposed of 21,700,000 cubic yards of its coal ash waste (four times the volume of the Kingston spill) in a 597-acre settling pond located a bend in the Mobile River. Surrounded by a dike constructed to withstand a 1,000-year, 24-hour rainfall event within, this coal ash pond fails to meet several of the restrictions imposed by the Final Rule. This unlined impoundment sits within five feet of the uppermost aquifer within wetlands, and sampling reveals it is contaminating groundwater in excess of protection standards. Therefore, the Rule compelled Alabama Power to close the pond using one of two options: 1) The pond can be closed in place, drying the ash, and encapsulating it with a cover to keep water out, or 2) it can be closed by transporting the ash to a modern lined landfill. Any further coal ash disposals had to be moved to such a lined facility or recycled.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management required Alabama Power to submit their closure plan for approval. They were fined for exceedances of the heavy metals arsenic and cobalt monitoring revealed in the ground water. They agreed to pay the fine and address groundwater contaminant concentrations by removing water from the ash, closing the pond, and providing regular monitoring reports for ADEM to track their progress in mitigating the contamination. Alabama Power developed a plan to close and cap the coal ash pond in place rather than transport the material to a lined landfill. The plan includes removing the water from the ash and treating it at an onsite wastewater treatment facility, excavating the coal ash and moving it back from the river and reducing its footprint by 45%, creating a redundant inner dike system surrounding the ash for containment and flood protection.

On June 23, 2020, the MBNEP publicly released a short film, The Unintended Consequences of Convenience - The Story of Coal Ash in Alabama. This animated feature is the culmination of a year of intensive research into the EPA’s Disposal of CCR Rule and Alabama Power’s Plan to close-in-place the Plant Barry coal ash pond. During the course of research and production of the film, MBNEP gathered extensive literature related to the CCR Rule and closure options and contracted two firms to conduct independent analyses of Alabama Power’s Closure Plan: Cook Hydrogeology, who assessed geologic and hydrologic factors underlying the Plan, and D’Apollonia Engineers, who reviewed factors related to structural integrity aspects of that Plan. MBNEP began development of this film after being approached by stakeholders and elected officials seeking information on Alabama Power’s plan to close-in-place the coal ash pond at Plant Barry.

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Fact Sheets

Physical Science Fact Sheet
CCR Legal Fact Sheet
Coal Ash Pond Frequently Asked Questions (updated 6/26/2020 4:40 p.m.)

Hydrogeology Review

Plant Barry Coal Ash Pond Hydrogeologic Conditions Presentation - Video
Report - Marlon R. Cook Cook Hydrogeology, LLC

Structural Engineering

Structural Integrity Review Presentation to GNC Video - May 4, 2020
Structural Integrity Review for CCR Closure Plan Plant Barry, Alabama Power Company, Bucks, AL Presentation - Robert E. Snow, P.E. - D’Appolonia Engineering Div. of Ground Technology, Inc. - May 4, 2020
Structural Integrity Review for CCR Closure Plan Plant Barry, Alabama Power Company, Bucks, AL Report - D’Appolonia Engineering Div. of Ground Technology, Inc. Pittsburgh, PA
Structural Integrity Review Presentation to Baykeeper Video - May 14, 2020

Additional Technical Reports and Publications

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Alabama Department of Environmental Management. (2020). ADEM Admin. Code r. 335-13-.xx

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Beck, N. B; Becker, R. A.; Erraguntla, N.; Farland, W. H.; Grant, R.; Gray, G.; Kirman, C.; LaKind, J. S.; Lewis, R. J.; Nance, P.; Pottenger, L. H.; Santos, S. L.; Shirley, S.; Simon, T.; Dourson, M. L. (2016) Approaches for describing and communicating overall uncertainty in toxicity characterizations: U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) as a case study. Environment International, Vol. 89-90, pp. 110-128.

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Johnson, G. J. (2018) Barry Ash Pond Review, Barry Power Generating Facility, Mobile, Alabama. Appendix J (Burgess Environmental Dam Safety Report) to Mobile Baykeeper Pollution Report: Coal Ash at Alabama Power's Plant Barry.

Kravchenko, J.; and Lyerly, H. K. (2018). The Impact of Coal-Powered Electrical Plants and Coal Ash Impoundments on the Health of Residential Communities. North Carolina Medical Journal; 79(5): 289-300.

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Pecci, K. (2018) All Landfills Leak, and Our Health and Environment Pay the Toxic Price. Conservation Law Foundation Blog.

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Ruhl, L.; Vengosh, A.; Dwyer, G. S.; Hsu-Kim, H.; Schwartz, G.; Romanski, A.; Smith, D. S. (2012) The Impact of Coal Combustion Residue Effluent on Water Resources: A North Carolina Example. Environmental Science and Technology. 46(21): 12226-12233.

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Sears, C. G., and Zierold, K. M. (2017) Health of Children Living Near Coal Ash. Global Pediatric Health.

Steevens, J. A.; Bednar, A. J.; Chappell, M. A.; Kennedy, A. J.; Seiter, J. M.; Stanley, J. K.; Averett, D. E. (2011) Evaluation of Metals Release from Oxidation of Fly Ash during Dredging of the Emory River, TN. Environmental Laboratory, U. S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, ERDC/EL TR-11-9.

Sweeney, D.; Cotting, A.; Hale, Z. (2019). Cost questions loom as utilities prepare to close hundreds of coal ash sites.

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U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. (2015) Alabama Coastal Comprehensive Plan.


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