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A website and book chronicling the whole story of coal ash during a year-long, nationwide tour.

A website and book chronicling the whole story of coal ash during a year-long, nationwide tour. Read More
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This project's funding goal was not reached on May 7, 2012.

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About this project

Coal Ash Chronicles: The whole story of America's second-largest waste stream

For those who crave lots of info, find it below in the Frequently Asked Questions section. If you have additional questions, let me know.

Otherwise, here's the skinny:

What is coal ash?

It's the waste produced when coal is burned to generate electricity.

In 2007, Scientific American reported that it's more radioactive than nuclear waste.

Read more about coal ash from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Why should you care about coal ash?

It could be in your water.

Coal ash is full of heavy, often toxic metals like arsenic, hexavalent chromium, selenium and more. It's often stored in slurry ponds that contaminate groundwater and drain into rivers and lakes that often serve as drinking water sources for large populations.

It's unregulated federally and only barely by some states. The EPA has tried to regulate it, but Congress and lobbyists are attempting to prevent regulation -- a bill that will prevent regulation has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is before the Senate. The Obama Administration has stopped short of vowing to veto it.

The ponds that hold coal ash can collapse, leak, breech and contaminate the groundwater beneath them. See the Tennessee Valley Authority spill of Dec. 2008, the breech in Wilmington, N.C., in 2009, the Lake Michigan spill of 2011, and the Little Blue Run leak that's happening now.

But, those aren't the only issues with coal ash. The biggest issues are the constant and invisible water contamination it causes and the power behind the push to keep it unregulated.

Why I need a Kickstart:

Journalists make jack, and investigative journalism is both expensive and critical in a democracy.

This summer, I'm launching a nationwide tour of coal ash ponds and dumps so I can bring you the real story, the whole story of coal ash and how it affects our nation's drinking water supplies.

I expect to be on the road for at least a year, and, when possible, in the air photographing coal ash dumps with J Henry Fair.


  • Well. Had you ever heard about coal ash before the Tennessee Valley Authority spill in December 2008? Me, either.

    Now I know that it is the second-largest waste stream in the country, that it's federally unregulated, and that many states don't regulate it, either. There are more than 600 coal plants in the United States and many of them have coal ash ponds -- where coal ash is stored as a wet slurry, often in man-made ponds.

    As humans have been doing since the dawn of time, we tend to bury our trash -- out of sight, out of mind. Now, roughly 60 years later, our communities have moved closer to the ponds; many neighborhoods are literally right across the street. We also know that the groundwater beneath many of the coal ash ponds is contaminated and that the ponds usually drain into our rivers, streams and lakes which are often also our drinking water sources.

    In the summer of 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a list of more than 40 high-hazard coal ash ponds. As it turns out, I live very close to two of them and my home city, Charlotte, N.C., has four of them -- all on the Catawba River, which is considered an "endangered" river. (Coal ash trivia: North Carolina has more high hazard coal ash ponds than any other state.)

    In November 2011, the EPA announced that it is expanding that list of ponds. Check out their website to see if the ponds near you have been inspected and how the government has rated them:

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  • I've been researching and writing about coal ash for years in Charlotte, N.C., and am recognized as an expert on the topic and frequently asked to speak on the issue.

    I'm known for my straight-forward, in-depth reporting that goes beyond press releases as I seek to discover what people really think and feel about the issues.

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  • Investigative journalism is expensive, as is a nationwide tour.

    Kickstarter campaigns aren't free, either: 8 to 10 percent of the total raised will be skimmed for fees and the "rewards" cost money, too.

    As the project moves along, I'll post updates that detail how much it will cost to travel to different states and well as basic details like how much it costs to fill my car's gas tank, how far that tank will take me, and how many tanks it will take to get back and forth across the country. Fortunately, I drive a hybrid that gets nearly 600 miles per tank.

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  • Kickstarter allows the public to get involved and to vote on the projects they think should be supported. What better way to get people engaged in the issue than to ask them to invest in it? And, what's more important than water -- something we have to have to live.

    My hope is people will not only back the project but that they will become invested in the issue and want to learn more about it. That's why a big focus of the project is the website,

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  • So far, I've invested $10,000 of my personal savings.

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  • May 7, 2012.

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  • Then I won't receive any funds and backers will not receive their rewards.

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  • The fundraising will continue and no one will be charged for their pledges until May 7.

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  • In addition to your reward and this campaign, your pledge will help cover travel and equipment expenses, pro-photography, research and for the maintenance of the website,

    Your pledge will enable me to investigate the various angles of the coal ash issue. I'll share what I find with the world so we, the people, can make an informed decision about whether or not coal ash should be regulated.

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  • J Henry Fair is a world-renowned photographer known, in part, for his "Industrial Scars" project.

    He has expressed interest in sharing his photography and in being the project's art director.

    Watch his TEDxBerlin talk and check out

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  • The first phase will go live in mid- to late-April.

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  • Everywhere there is a coal ash pond, dump or landfill.

    I'll spend time in those communities and with the people impacted by coal ash -- citizens, industry workers, environmentalists and policy makers, offering updates on the journey at

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  • Yes.

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  • Yes.

    In Sept. 2012, I'll host a forum on coal ash during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte for

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  • Here are three of the stories I've written about coal ash:

    ""; (Charlotte magazine, February 2010; winner of the 2011 Gold Gamma award for profile writing)

    "…; (Creative Loafing cover story, Sept. 8, 2010)

    "…; (Creative Loafing cover story, Sept. 13, 2011)

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Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $1 or more About $1.00 USD

    The author's eternal gratitude for your support, inclusion on a list of supporters at and on her exclusive update list for monthly updates on what it's really like to tour the country on the hunt for the whole story of coal ash.

    Estimated delivery
    4 backers
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $7 or more About $7 USD

    The above plus a button from Buttons of Hope.

    Estimated delivery
    2 backers
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $30 or more About $30 USD

    All of the above plus a t-shirt designed by Ink Floyd.

    Estimated delivery
    11 backers
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100 USD

    All of the above, plus a signed copy of the book mailed to you before it's released in stores and online.

    Estimated delivery
    10 backers
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250 USD

    All of the above, plus a personalized postcard mailed to you from every state on the coal ash tour.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 3 backers
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,500 or more About $1,500 USD

    All of the above, plus the author will visit your community and speak on the coal ash issue as it pertains to your area. (One speaking engagement per month, beginning Oct. 2012.)

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 0 backers

Funding period

- (60 days)