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Toxic Waste Ponds Dangerously Vulnerable to Climate Change

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Toxic Waste Ponds Dangerously Vulnerable to Climate Change
Flooding and a coal ash spill at Duke Energy's Sutton power plant near Wilmington, North Carolina on Sept. 21, 2018 after Hurricane Florence. Jo-Anne McArthur / Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. / Flickr

The threat of a catastrophic failure unleashing a 20-foot wall of industrial wastewater over nearby homes and businesses in Piney Point, Florida, illustrates the danger of widespread reliance on industrial waste ponds across the U.S., The New York Times reports.


Many of these ponds, filled with toxic and sometimes radioactive, byproducts of climate-change causing activity like coal ash from power plants or manure from industrialized farms, are also at risk because of climate change. Open lagoons make up the extent of waste processing infrastructure for industrial hog farming operations and coal-fired power plants and both were overwhelmed by Hurricane Florence in 2018, when more than 100 hog lagoons were swamped throughout the Carolinas and coal ash poured out of containment ponds at Duke's Sutton Plant in Wilmington, N.C.

"They're just an irresponsible way to store very dangerous waste," Daniel Estrin, general counsel at the Waterkeeper Alliance, a clean water nonprofit group, told the Times. "And with climate change, we're going to see more frequent and stronger storms that are going to impact these sites."

For a deeper dive:

The New York Times; Climate Signals background: Hurricanes

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