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Coal Ash Dump Site in Bokoshe in OK, USA


Located in the small town of Bokoshe, Oklahoma, population 512 (2010 Census), is a dumpsite for byproducts of Shady Point coal-fired power plant operations.

Shady Point is a 350 megawatt plant that produces electricity for many locations throughout the Midwestern United States.

90% of the coal used comes from Wyoming and the rest is Oklahoma coal- both having a high sulfur content and of very poor quality [1]. The byproduct of burned coal is a powdery substance called coal combustion waste, or fly ash [2], a substance driven through the middle of the town of Bokoshe on 80 trucks a day to an unlined dumpsite [1].

This dump has been in the town since 2001 [3].

There are at least 12 fly ash dumpsites in Oklahoma, but none bigger than this one.

Standing 55 feet tall and covering more than 20 acres [2], this pit is operated by Making Money Having Fun LLC (MMHF) and has greatly impacted the residents of Bokoshe and spurred an intense fight with local, state and federal government agencies.

Other cities get the benefits of electricity produced from the Shady Point power plant, yet the people of Bokoshe are left to suffer the consequences.

Residents have described the impacts of the fly ash on their health, their town and their lives.

Homegrown food is contaminated by the ash coming off of the trucks, they can feel the grit hitting their faces when standing outside, neighbors and family have been diagnosed with and have died from cancer, and many people- especially children- have suffered from respiratory illnesses [1]. Radioactive materials are just one major concern that residents have [4]. Of the twenty homes in the immediate neighborhood of the dumpsite, fourteen homes have one or more cancer victims [3].

An article written by Physicians for Social Responsibility noted that all coals have at least some level of naturally occurring radioactive materials and these are concentrated through the burning process and then stay with the coal ash when the carbon is burned off.

If these dusts, or fly ash, are inhaled, they can transport radioactive metals into a person’s lungs and even bones [5].

The dumpsite is operating just 1.5 miles from the Bokoshe public school which serves 250 students [1].

Fugitive dust from the dump is blamed for a high asthma rate suffered by school children [6]. Teachers at the school have observed that more than half of their students have asthma [3]. The dust does not have to be inhaled to be dangerous and can just as easily contaminate surface water supplies which can be ingested by humans and other species [5].

If the fly ash gets into drinking water, the cancer risk can increase from 20 to 2,000 times the EPA’s targets. In 2009 and 2010, the discharge water tested at the Bokoshe dumpsite was found to be toxic, a case that was referred to the Department of Justice when MMHF was not compliant with EPA’s orders to stop polluting [3]. Additionally, MMHF was found in violation of both the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act for seven years but was not assessed any monetary penalties [1]. A link between exposure and specific diseases is difficult to prove but the U.S. EPA concluded that dumps that do not have protective liners (such as this one operated by MMHF) present a high risk of human exposure to arsenic and other hazardous contaminants [3].

In March 2008, Shady Point applied for an air permit to build a 630 MW addition next to their original plant [7]. Local opposition sprung up with the help of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the Center for Energy Matters [8].

Smaller activists groups formed, held informational meetings and spread the word about the proposed expansion [1].

In 2009, Shady Point withdrew its permit application stating that the decision was “part of our broader strategy to re-evaluate our growth plans” [7].

This decision happened during a time when the EPA was reconsidering the Bush administration's policy not to enforce pollution-control regulations on coal-fired plants and had proposed declaring coal ash a hazardous waste which would require stricter regulations [3].

The EPA held a public hearing in Dallas regarding this proposal, a meeting that Bokoshe residents attended and spoke at [1]. There was definite opposition to EPA’s proposal from industry groups and other government agencies.

One comment at the hearing came from an individual with Citizens for Recycling First who stated that “Fly ash does not rise to the level of toxicity that would qualify it as a hazardous waste based on what's in it" and it should instead be recycled [2].

At the state level, there is no clear line of responsibility for the fly ash making it very difficult for residents to achieve any results through the state. Oklahoma DEQ only regulates the air at the site of the pit while the Oklahoma Department of Mines is supposedly responsible for regulating the fly ash [2].

Similarly, Oklahoma state regulations fail to require basic disposal safeguards such as groundwater monitoring at all coal ash ponds and landfills and composite liners at all new coal ash ponds and landfills [6]. The state of Oklahoma also does not mandate dust controls at coal ash landfills or ponds and does not mandate daily cover at coal ash landfills such as the one in Bokoshe [5].

In 2010, the EPA proposed coal ash regulations.

These regulations were not finalized in a timely manner, leading many organizations to sue the EPA for failure to follow the law [9].

The rule was finalized on December 19, 2014 in response to this lawsuit and established technical requirements under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), record keeping and reporting requirements, and many other requirements of such facilities [10].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Coal Ash Dump Site in Bokoshe in OK, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Oklahoma
Location of conflict:Bokoshe
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal

Project Details and Actors

Project details

EPA documents show the Shady Point power plant dumped fly ash containing more than 56,000 pounds of arsenic compounds, 1,100 hundred pounds of mercury and 1,000 pounds of lead at the site in 2007 alone [2].

The proposed second power plant that Shady Point applied for a permit for was expected to emit more than 2.5 million tons of CO2 every year [7].

Project area:129
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:500-550
Start of the conflict:01/01/2001
Company names or state enterprises:Making Money Having Fun LLC (MMHF) from United States of America - Owner and operator of fly ash pit in Bokoshe, OK
AES Corporation (AES) from United States of America
Relevant government actors:U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Oklahoma Department of Mines
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sierra Club, Two is Too Many, BECAUSE, Public Citizen, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Environmental Integrity Project, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Moapa Band of Paiutes, Montana Environmental Information Center, Prairie Rivers Network, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Western north Carolina Alliance

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Genetic contamination, Soil contamination, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Other Health impactsRespiratory illness and other diseases from fly ash in air and water


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of alternatives:Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) have supported the use of protective practices to control toxic dust, such as moistening dry ash and covering it daily in a landfill, can minimize the dangers to public health (
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:While the EPA did pass a rule requiring stricter reporting requirements and other regulations at the end of 2014, it is yet to be seen if this will be enforced, especially considering that the state of Oklahoma still has no regulations for coal ash dump sites and enforcement has been minimal in the past. Meanwhile, residents are continuing to deal with 80 truckloads of fly ash going through the town of Bokoshe on a daily basis.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Bokoshe Oklahoma, Home of a Fly Ash Dump Site. Blog.

[2] Oklahoma Fails Small Town In Fly Ash Regulation. News on 6. Oct 28, 2010

[3] Oklahoma Town Fears Cancer, Asthma May Be Linked to Dump Site. ABC News. March 29, 2011

[4] Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste. Scientific American. December 13, 2007

[5] Ash in the Lungs: How Breathing Coal Ash is Hazardous to Your Health. Physicians for Social Responsibility and Earth Justice.


REGULATORY GAPS. Earth Justice. 2012

[8] ABC World News Covers Bokoshe Coal Ash Dump. Texas Vox: The Voice of the Public Citizen in Texas. March 29, 2011


Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites


E.P.A. Issues Rules on Disposal of Coal Ash to Protect Water Supply- Dec 19, 2014 NY Times

[7] AES Shady Point II status. Sierra Club.

[10] 2014 Final Rule: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities. U.S. EPA. December 19, 2014

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Oklahoma Fails Small Town In Fly Ash Regulation- Oct 28, 2010 News Story

Bokoshe Residents Speak Out- Feb 5, 2009

Bokoshe- In the Air We Breathe. This is a film produced for the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club. The film covers the town of Bokoshe, OK and its residents who for the past several years have been affected by the illegal dumping of toxic fly ash; the byproduct of burning coal.

Other documents

Sierra Club chapter standing in front of coal ash pit Source: Sierra Club Oklahoma chapter, Jody Harlan

2009 DEQ Air Quality meeting attended by Bokoshe residents Source:

Bokoshe fly ash Source:

Fly ash, 2010 Source:

Fly ash trucks Source:

Shady Point power plant Source:

Google Satelite image of the Bokoshe coal ash pit Source:

Open pit operated by Making Money Having Fun LLC, 2010 Source:

Meta information

Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015



Sierra Club chapter standing in front of coal ash pit

Source: Sierra Club Oklahoma chapter, Jody Harlan

2009 DEQ Air Quality meeting attended by Bokoshe residents


Bokoshe fly ash


Fly ash, 2010


Fly ash trucks


Open pit operated by Making Money Having Fun LLC, 2010


Shady Point power plant


Google Satelite image of the Bokoshe coal ash pit