Coal-fired Power Plants

Generating electricity from coal-fired power plants releases toxic pollutants that are hazardous to both our air and water. Coal plants account for 25 percent of all toxic metal emissions in the United States. Furthermore, coal-fired power plants are responsible for 99 percent of all mercury emissions from the power sector in the country. Once mercury from the air settles to the water, microorganisms change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish. From extraction to combustion, every stage of the coal-life-cycle threatens our environment and the health of our communities.

How Coal Impacts Air Quality

CoalpollutionThe combustion of coal releases a toxic mixture of pollutants into our air such as mercury, arsenic, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide – a major component of ozone pollution or “smog”. In North Carolina, power plants are also responsible for 51 percent of the state’s carbon pollution, the leading greenhouse gas causing climate disruption. Carbon pollution not only fuels climate change, it triggers asthma attacks and respiratory disease, and worsens air quality.

For more information on Coal & Air Quality, visit Clean Air Carolina’s website.

How Coal Impacts Water Quality

Coal ash1Coal ash waste, a by-product of burning coal for electricity and stored in large, unlined slurry ponds, contains concentrated amounts of many toxic heavy metals that threaten our health and environment. The Catawba-Wateree River is a national poster child for the problems associated with unlined coal ash impoundments. Nearly 10% (4 out of 45) of coal ash impoundments designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as “High Hazard” are located on the banks of the Catawba-Wateree River. All four of these high hazard ash ponds are located along reservoirs that are used as a source of drinking water. Unlined coal ash impoundments threaten the Catawba River through three primary routes of exposure:

  1. Catastrophic release, such as the 2008 TVA spill in Kingston,TN;
  2. Daily untreated discharges from the coal ash ponds; and
  3. Contaminants from coal ash into the groundwater.

Catawba Riverkeeper has been active in testing the discharges from the ash ponds, educating the public about the ash ponds, advocating for tighter standards, and in some cases filing lawsuits to compel the cleanup of ash ponds.

For more information about Coal Ash & Water Quality, see