US electricity production via coal produces 130 million tons of waste per year. Although coal ash is not officially labeled as hazardous waste, it has very high concentrations of lead, arsenic, and mercury, and can cause serious health problems. In order to avoid health risks, coal ash must be disposed of in dry, lined containers. Despite this, a lot of coal ash in the US is placed in wet ponds, where it puts the surrounding neighborhood at risk.
More facts about coal:
- Almost half of the electricity in the US as of 2010 is produced by coal.
- The amount of coal ash in the Kingston, Tennessee, ash spill of 2008 was 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, with over 5 million cubic yards (almost 4 million cubic meters) of toxic ash released.(
- Reports state that living near unlined coal ash ponds puts residents at 900 times the normal risk for cancer. One study reported in the Scientific American showed that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.