We burn a lot of coal for electricity in this country, and it leaves behind a lot of coal ash. This coal ash contains mercury, arsenic, selenium and other dangerous substances. And it all has to go somewhere.

For the last several decades, that “somewhere” has mostly been in huge ponds, where the coal ash is doused with water to keep it from blowing away. When you drive by or fly over a power plant, you’ll see big, black lakes — that’s coal ash. Sometimes it’s pretty close to residential neighborhoods. Many of the ponds are unlined, so the water seeps into the ground underneath.

Until 2015, there were no federal coal ash regulations at all.

WFPL Energy and Environment Reporter Ryan Van Velzer did a story analyzing newly-available coal ash data, and how groundwater near Kentucky power plants is affected. It’s part of a three-part series from WFPL and the Ohio Valley ReSource called “Coal Ash Uncovered.”

Ryan joins us on today’s Recut, along with WFPL News Director — and former Environment Reporter — Erica Peterson.

Like what you hear? We do it twice a week! Every episode of Recut takes a closer look at a story we’re covering in the WFPL newsroom. Subscribe on iTunes or Android, and let us know what you think at

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects.