April 07, 2015 / by John

AshTracker Updates

Late last night our team pushed major design and functionality revisions to AshTracker.org, a web based application that helps the public obtain detailed information on groundwater contamination near areas used to dispose of ash, scrubber sludge or other wastes from coal burning power plants. Working with Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), our team opened data consisting of 89,250 groundwater monitoring readings for 53 facilities across the nation. Of these measurements 10,090 (11%) exceeded federal safe drinking water standards, and 1,274 (78%) of facility monitored groundwater wells exceeded federal safe drinking water standards.

System Improvements

With a large amount of new data made available, we’ve scaled our system, making it easy to explore groundwater monitoring results greater than drinking water standards by state, facility, or heavy metal. As users interact with the filters on the explore page, results are narrowed and a live link is generated to share search results. We’ve also made improvements to how facility and well level data are summarized. Each facility now has its own set of profiles. These data summaries contain a well map, a monitoring profile, and a link to download groundwater monitoring results. The well map and monitoring profile allow anyone to drill down and discover even more information about groundwater at a well or concentrations of a contaminant across all wells at a particular site. Users also have full access to the source data for their own use and analysis outside of AshTracker.

About Coal Ash

Coal ash is one of the largest industrial waste streams in the United States. Each year, coal plants generate over 100 million tons of ash, most of which is dumped, untreated, into landfills and ponds. The U.S. EPA has determined that at least 157 of these disposal sites have contaminated groundwater and/or surface water. Coal ash contains a toxic mix of pollutants that can cause cancer and other health effects, and these pollutants frequently migrate into local groundwater at dramatically unsafe levels. Arsenic, a known carcinogen, has been found at levels more than 50 times higher than what the EPA considers safe. Manganese, a neurotoxin, has exceeded safe levels by more than 200-fold. These and the other pollutants in the Ashtracker database commonly occur in mixtures that present a cumulative risk much greater than the risk of each individual pollutant.

Where do the data come from?

Many states require facilities to monitor groundwater and submit copies of the results to state agencies. To obtain this information, EIP submits requests to these agencies pursuant to state “Right to Know” laws. This process can be long and expensive - requiring fees to agencies and document delivery services. A handful of states - such as Florida and Louisiana - provide this information online. But navigating these systems can be difficult if requestors are not certain what they are looking for or how the information is filed. Once EIP obtains raw data from state agencies, it is entered into a large database that provides the backbone for the site and statistical summaries.

Next Steps

Ashtracker now bridges this gap and makes public information accessible to concerned citizens. We will continue to work with our partners at EIP to continuously grow the number of facilities in the database and expand the interoperability of the application for use by community organizers and state agencies. AshTracker will continue to grow and we look forward to seeing it’s use and expansion facilitate better understanding of groundwater threats.

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