Over the past week, Facing South has compiled a couple of reports looking at the extent of the environmental and public health threat from poorly regulated coal combustion waste.

In "Coal's ticking timebomb: Could disaster strike a coal ash dump near you?," we looked at the 100 most-polluting U.S. power plants' 2006 self-reported toxic releases to on-site lagoons like the one that failed so catastrophically at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston facility. And in "A closer look at the South's toxic coal ash dumps," we looked at the total releases by South-based power plants to these lagoons in 2006, the most recent year for which the data is available on the Environmental Protection Agency's website.

Now there's important new information on the threat presented by these facilities from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit established by former EPA attorneys to press for better enforcement of environmental laws.

A report released today by EIP uses the same EPA data we analyzed to examine the presence of six toxic metals -- arsenic, chromium, lead, nickel, selenium and thallium -- in the waste at these kind of dumps nationwide. It shows that a total of 13 states have at least three coal-fired power plants with these types of waste facilities, known technically as surface impoundments. Among them are seven states in the South -- Kentucky and Alabama, which have seven each; Georgia and North Carolina, six each; West Virginia and Tennessee, four each; and Florida with three.

EIP looked at the companies' reported releases from 2000, when EPA last considered regulating coal combustion waste, to 2006, the most recent year for which data is readily available. It found that the electric utility industry reported depositing coal ash containing more than 124 million pounds of those six toxic metals into surface impoundments. The dumping presents a threat beyond that of a catastrophic spill like that in Eastern Tennessee, since these metals are prone to leaching into the environment and are highly toxic at minute levels.

"The Tennessee eco-disaster has cast a spotlight on what is a very serious national problem -- the existence of under-regulated toxic pollution coal dump sites near coal-fired power plants that pose a serious threat to drinking water supplies, rivers and streams," says EIP Director Eric Schaeffer. "Our analysis confirms that this problem is truly national in scope and that Tennessee may end up only being a warning sign of much more trouble to come."

To prevent another disaster like the one facing Harriman, Tenn. and downstream communities, EIP is calling for a phase-out of all wet storage of toxic coal ash, immediate inspection and monitoring of all toxic coal ash storage and disposal units, and federal regulation of all toxic coal ash storage by the year's end.