Flooding in the Delta Highlights Threat of Catastrophic Coal Ash Spill

For Immediate Release: January 30, 2019

Contact: Casi (kc) Callaway, Executive Director & Baykeeper

callaway@mobilebaykeeper.org. 251-433-4229.

Flooding in the Delta Highlights Threat of Catastrophic Coal Ash Spill

(Mobile, Ala.) - On January 7 2019, during the height of flooding in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Mobile Baykeeper staff flew with SouthWings over the Delta to observe Alabama Power’s 597-acre unlined coal ash pit. More than 21 million tons of toxic coal ash in the pit is only held back by an earthen (dirt) dam and views from the air and the river show flood water dangerously covering as much as 15 feet of the 25 foot dam. 

Get the big picture by reading the full article in the Bay Blog


Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director Casi Callaway said, "It is unacceptable for Alabama Power to leave toxic coal ash in this flood prone area."  Callaway added, "When a small amount of rain can cause this severe flooding, just imagine what will happen during a tropical storm." Callaway continued saying, "Mobile is the rainiest city in the country, the real question is when, not if, a major hurricane will strike the Alabama coast. When it does, it is critical that Alabama Power not have 20 million tons of coal ash sitting in the Delta, mere miles upstream of Mobile Bay, behind a dirt dam."



The flooding observed by Mobile Baykeeper staff is concerning because:

  • Coal ash is full of toxic heavy metals that cause cancer and other health issues.

  • A major flood-prone river surrounds three sides of the dam. If a  large hurricane strikes Coastal Alabama there is a significant likelihood the dam at Plant Barry would be overtopped or breached allowing coal ash to escape. This would be catastrophic.

  • Coal ash dam breaks are not uncommon. In 2008, an ash pit in Kingston, Tennessee ruptured, spilling tons of coal ash into nearby rivers. Most recently, at least 2,000 cubic yards (the equivalent of 200 dump truck loads) of coal ash spilled into the Cape Fear River in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence last September.


Despite these risks, Alabama Power plans to leave their coal ash on the side of the Mobile River. They plan to pump the water out of the ash (dewater it), reduce the size of the pit, and put a liner on top (cap-in-place). The bottom of the pit will still be unlined, allowing pollution to continue entering groundwater. 


Alabama Power is leaving coal ash within two football fields from the Mobile River. Five southeastern states are removing coal ash from pits near rivers and Mobile Baykeeper believes we deserve at least as much. "Alabama Power is a leader in so many ways in our communities. It is disappointing they are refusing to take the lead to protect the health, economy, and quality of life for people living in Mobile and Baldwin Counties from 21 million tons of toxic ash. Alabamians deserve clean water and we will fight for our coastal communities, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, our local economy, and our communities."


For high-resolution pictures of flooding at Plant Barry's coal ash pit in January 2019 click here.
For high-resolution pictures of Plant Barry's coal ash pit 
click here.

To read Mobile Baykeeper's detailed pollution report on Plant Barry's coal ash pit, please click here.  

To learn more about Mobile Baykeeper’s work on coal ash, visit our site or call 251-433-4229.


Plant Barry is an electrical generation plant located about 10 miles north of Mobile city limits in Bucks, Alabama. On the plant’s property is an unlined 597 acre unlined coal ash pit storing more than 21 million tons of coal ash. Coal ash, the byproduct of burnt coal, is extremely dangerous to public health and the environment and is proven to have leaked from Alabama Power Plant Barry’s coal ash pit alongside the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. International, national, and local media have all reported on the devastating effects coal ash spills have had on the Carolinas in the wake of Hurricane Florence’s massive floods.

Mobile Baykeeper is deeply concerned that the coal ash pit, only separated by an earthen (made from dirt) dam from the Mobile River, is susceptible to catastrophic failures similar to those that occurred after Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas. Previous research and reports released by Baykeeper show significant threats posed by the pit's susceptibility to collapse, especially in the wake of a major weather event such as a hurricane.

Mobile Baykeeper’s report shows that Alabama Power’s decision to leave the coal ash in the pit at Plant Barry and “cap-in-place” is not a viable solution. As a result, Mobile Baykeeper urges them to choose the alternative that prioritizes the health of our communities, environment, and economy - Dig up the coal ash from the side of the river and move it to an upland lined landfill.


To learn more about Mobile Baykeeper’s work and events, http://www.mobilebaykeeper.org/ or call 251-433-4229.

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Mobile Baykeeper is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization working to provide citizens a means to protect the beauty, health and heritage of the Mobile Bay Watershed and our coastal communities. To learn more about Mobile Baykeeper, please visit our site.