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14 power plants in Michigan exceed safe levels of coal ash toxins, report says

A coal ash pond in North Carolina
Waterkeeper Alliance Inc.
A coal ash pond in North Carolina

A 2015 EPA rule requires power plants to clean up coal ash piles, but a new report found only four percent of polluting plants in the country have committed to addressing contamination.

In Michigan, fourteen power plants are exceeding federal levels of contaminants like arsenic and lithium.

The report found over 90% of coal-fired plants have landfills or waste ponds that are contaminating groundwater.

Abel Russ is an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project and co-author of the report. In a Nov. 3 press conference, he said nearly all coal-fired power plants in the country are violating the federal Coal Ash Rule and endangering the public’s health.

“The Coal Ash Rule was designed to figure out how bad the contamination is, and on that front, it has succeeded," Russ said. "We have a lot of information and know how widespread the problem is. But of course, the rule is also meant to stimulate cleanup and corrective action, and we're not seeing that.”

Russ said the study compiles self-reported information from utility owners, so some sites may appear cleaner than they are due to a lack of monitoring or manipulation of data.

Lisa Evans is an attorney with Earthjustice and co-author of the report. She said even though the majority of coal-fired power plants are violating federal law, a lack of federal enforcement allows utilities to walk away from clean-up.

“We found that power companies are recklessly leaving toxic ash in water, illegally manipulating data to cover up the pollution, knowingly proposing cleanup remedies that will not stop the problem, and illegally delaying cleanup for years,” Evans said.

The report recommends increasing water testing near ash dump sites and strengthening federal oversight to enforce clean-up.

Most of the Michigan plants listed in the report are in Southeast Michigan and on the west side of the state. See the ash tracker maps here.

The full report "Poisonous Coverup" can be found here.

Coal ash tracker map
Coal ash tracker map

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.