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What We Can Do to Stop our Waterways from Being Contaminated with Coal Ash

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Along with increasing temperatures, heavier rain has amplified a hidden hazard: contaminated water. Coal plants located throughout the United States have started to raise concerns about their coal ash pits. These pits are usually very old, lined with clay, and trenched in the bedrock. With increased rainfall, these clay lines erode and allow the coal ash to seep into the nearby waterways and underground wells.

Coal Ash spills are very common and aren't always revealed to the public. Although people in different regions of the United States might not worry about this issue, there is reason to be concerned. For example, one coal plant is located in Missouri and is not far from the Mississippi river. If this plant experienced a spill, the pollutants released could travel through the Mississippi river and affect a good portion of the United States. Not only would this kill different aquatic species, but it would also affect the surrounding communities.

One of the other big issues is that these spills can affect human health. Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity and is filled with many toxic substances like selenium, mercury, and arsenic. In the Eco-Justice Collaborative article about the Coal Ash Threat, it states that "Coal ash pollutants can cause cancer, as well as damage to nervous systems and other organs, especially in children."

Some of the best ways to prevent coal ash spills include completely removing the toxic waste and placing it in a proper facility, moving risky facilities away from water sources, setting and enforcing strict procedures for existing facilities, and having companies transition from coal usage to an electrical system.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that we can do as individuals since it’s mainly up to local or state governments and companies to move the facilities. What we can try to do is start the conversation about the health risks and environmental damage that coal ash spills cause. Making the issues and risks known will encourage more people to bring this topic to their local governments. It will encourage people to advocate to help prevent themselves and others from getting sick and to help save our waterways and oceans.

Since many of the river systems in the United States are connected to oceans and lakes, major spills could cause irreversible damage to those ecosystems. Being active in state and local decisions by attending meetings and writing letters to state and local legislators will create more awareness of this issue. Even making sure these spills are documented and broadcasted on the news helps. Protecting our waterways and oceans allows us to have better health and keep our environment strong.



Colleen Wouters, M. I. A. 9. (2021, August 7). Climate change means more flooding, raising concerns about Missouri coal ash ponds • Missouri Independent. Missouri Independent. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from

Dynegy's coal ash threat to the Middle Fork. Eco. (2021, September 12). Retrieved September 27, 2022, from

Paulman, K. (2022, August 26). Coal Ash near Illinois Water Wells to stay, despite residents' concerns. Energy News Network. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from


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