Coal Ash in Coastal Alabama

March 27, 2018: Mobile baykeeper releases pollution report showing significant dangers of coal ash at plant barry. 


Cap-in-Place Does Not Prevent Groundwater Pollution or Spills

Currently, Alabama Power plans to cap-in-place all of their coal ash pits. Cap-in-place means placing a liner over the top of the coal ash, but leaving it unlined on the bottom. This does not prevent groundwater pollution or spills.

Alabama Power’s only capped-in-place pit at Plant Gadsden is still leaking arsenic and radium into groundwater above national limits. The utility plans to use the same method at every unlined ash pit in the state. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) recently fined Alabama Power $250,000 (less than 0.03% of the utility’s 2017 net profit) for the Gadsden violations.

Above: Aerial view of The James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant in Mobile County, one of the largest coal ash ponds in the nation.


New regulations by the EPA, known as the Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) Rule, require coal-burning facilities to take certain steps to prevent toxic chemicals in coal ash from leaving coal ash ponds and demonstrate these ponds are safe. If this cannot be done on site, the coal ash must be removed from the site. To comply with this rule, these facilities are given two options: 1) Cap in place the existing coal ash, or 2) Excavate the ash and transport it to a lined upland landfill. 


Alabama Power has made a preliminary decision to "cap in place" its coal ash pond at Plant Barry. This means the ash will be capped with some material and will sit in, unlined pits adjacent to the Mobile River. 

Coal Ash coats the Neuse River in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew caused spills at a Duke Energy coal ash pond. Photo - Waterkeeper Alliance


Alabama Power's preliminary decision to cap in place means there is a high potential for groundwater and/or surface water contamination. The coal ash pond is bordered on three sides by the massive and powerful Mobile River, is built on top of a creek, surrounded by wetlands and low-lying areas, and lies within the 100-year floodplain of the Mobile River. Studies by ADEM and the EPA have identified groundwater contamination as a key concern at Plant Barry. The realities of the pond being sited this way mean that there is not only potential for the pond to leak toxic pollutants into nearby groundwater and rivers. There is also a very real possibility that the ponds dam could fail, catastrophically polluting the Mobile River, Delta, and Bay with toxic coal ash.

Such a spill would not be unprecedented. A 2008 spill in Kingston, Tennessee released more than 6 million tons of coal ash into nearby rivers destroying homes and causing pollution that will affect the area for decades. In 2014 a spill occurred at a Duke Energy coal ash pond north of Greensboro, NC. Almost 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River. The toxic sludge contaminated the river up to 70 miles downstream. The prevalence of flooding from strong hurricanes and heavy rainfall in coastal Alabama provide additional problems for storing coal ash in a waterfront earthen pond. This October, Hurricane Matthew caused an unknown amount of coal ash to spill from a Duke Energy coal ash pond into the Neuse River in North Carolina (pictured above).

 We feel strongly that excavating the toxic coal ash and transporting it to lined upland landfills away from the Mobile River is the only way to ensure that the health of our communities and environment is protected.

Above: Map showing where Plant Barry is located on the Mobile River in northern Mobile County. Map data - 2016 Google Maps©, INEGI


The James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant, is located in Bucks, AL in North Mobile County. It is operated by Alabama Power Company. Plant Barry, as it is commonly known, burns coal and natural gas to produce electricity. The resulting coal ash is mixed with water and piped into a coal ash pond. In operation since 1952, this pond is located immediately adjacent to the Mobile River and Mobile-Tensaw Delta and contains more than 21 million tons of coal ash!

What is Mobile Baykeeper Doing About It?

Mobile Baykeeper recognizes that the plan Alabama Power has released is preliminary and there is still time for them to choose the most protective course of action by removing the coal ash from the banks of the Mobile River. We continue to research the issue diligently to understand all impacts that may occur. As we review the results of our research, we are also continuing to encourage Alabama Power to seriously consider the impacts that leaving this massive coal ash pond in place will have on the surrounding environment and the ongoing threat that it presents.

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