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: http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/surveys2/index.htm