A new report by the Altamaha River Keeper, Environment Georgia and others looks at the Georgia data from a first ever national survey of coal ash storage by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Coal ash is what’s left when coal is burned to make electricity. Rules for how coal ash is handled and how data is gathered on it were changed by the Obama administration in 2015. The new report is based on the first full, national reporting by the EPA of how coal ash is stored made possible by those rule changes.
The report shows 90 percent of Georgia’s coal ash ponds are leaking harmful levels of carcinogens and toxins into groundwater. Those ponds are found next to now closed power plants as well as active power plants scattered across the state.
That includes the ash pond at Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer in the town of Juliette, less than a mile away from Houston Cass’s family home. Cass, like others in the area, uses well water in his home which is susceptible to groundwater contamination. Cass believes the ash pond is connected to the rare cancers his son and niece were diagnosed with.
"I'm not Brockovich or whatever the lady's name was, but you know it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out something's wrong," Cass said.
Georgia Power has quietly bought up homes and properties near the ash pond at Plant Scherer for years.
Attorneys attached to the report advocate excavation and dry storage away from groundwater for all coal ash. Georgia Power is beginning dry ash storage at Plant Scherer, but in a press release they say they will instead cover about a third of their other ponds in the state in place. Georgia Power did not respond to requests to address the report directly.
Though the Trump administration has fought to reverse the Obama era coal ash rules, the next round of nationwide coal ash data is expected in early 2019.