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Laid to Waste: The Dirty Secret of Combustion Waste from America’s Power Plants

March 1, 2000

The Problem

The electric power industry is the largest toxic polluter in the country. Producing electricity from coal and oil releases a wide range of pollutants into the environment. In addition to toxic air pollution from power plant smokestacks, large volumes of toxic chemicals are produced at coal and oil-fired power plants and included in millions of tons of solid and liquid wastes that are typically disposed of at or near the power plants that generate these wastes.

Coal and Oil Waste is Toxic

Combustion wastes are the solid and liquid waste over from burning coal and oil to make electricity — ash, sludge, boiler slag, mixed together with a dozen or so smaller volume wastes. Every year, over 100 million tons of these wastes are produced at nearly 600 coal and oil-fired power plants. Seventy-six million tons are primarily disposed of at the power plant site in unlined and unmonitored wastewater lagoons, landfills and mines. These disposal units are operating under state rules that frequently are far less protective than rules for household trash.