Likelihood of Sinkholes Risks Widespread Water Contamination

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Press Release from Sierra Club

CARTERSVILLE, GA — The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) will host an online public hearing at 6 p.m. Oct. 14 on Georgia Power’s proposed plan for toxic coal ash located at Plant Bowen.

EPD released the draft permit on Sept. 14 for Ash Pond-1 (AP-1), which initiates a 60-day comment period that ends on Nov. 15. Comments will be accepted both at the virtual hearing and via email to, with the subject line “Plant Bowen AP-1 CCR Permit.”

The EPD permitting process determines how Georgia Power must deal with the pollution left over from decades of burning coal at its plants throughout the state. Coal ash is the toxic residual waste created by burning coal, which is then mixed with water and dumped into giant pits. Coal ash contains some of the most toxic materials on earth, like arsenic, mercury, chromium, beryllium, and radium. These toxins can poison water and cause significant health complications like cancer, reproductive issues, and heart problems.

Although Georgia Power plans to install a liner at Bowen AP-1, underneath AP-1 lies unstable karst terrain, which is prone to sinkholes and underground caves. Expert analysis shows that a liner will likely not protect ground and surface water from coal ash contamination if another sinkhole develops.

In 2002, a four acre-wide sinkhole formed under Plant Bowen and released 2.25 million gallons of coal ash into Euharlee Creek. This spill resulted in arsenic levels rising to 1250 parts per billion, exceeding federal drinking water standards by more than 120 times, which caused downstream drinking water intakes to suspend operation. Additional sinkholes developed again at AP-1 in December 2008 also caused by the inherent instability of the terrain.

Sierra Club is mobilizing concerned community members to send comments to the EPD and/or attend the public hearing to make it known that the public is opposed to Georgia Power’s dangerous plan. To learn more and sign up to take action, visit

“As a resident of Cartersville, only about 10 miles from Plant Bowen, I am deeply concerned about toxic coal ash,” said Barbara Tustian, who has lived in Cartersville for more than 30 years, and within a few miles of Plant Bowen since 2002. “Coal burning plants across the country are closing as the transition to cleaner energy sources becomes a priority in order to control climate change. The accumulated waste from these plants — millions of tons of coal ash — must be dealt with to eliminate the health threat it poses to our environment and waterways.

“As theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, ‘The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children.’ Our lives, our health, and that of generations to come depend on the safety of clean air and water. It’s our responsibility to do all we can to ensure the quality of these resources. It’s the only moral option.”

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit