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Quantifying the Impact of Coal Ash Pollution

Goldsboro, North Carolina

Featured image for the project, Quantifying the Impact of Coal Ash Pollution

View of collapsed coal ash impoundment and closed power plant at Dan River Steam Station (Duke Energy), Eden, North Carolina


As the County seat, Goldsboro sits in the heart of Wayne County, North Carolina. Community members describe Goldsboro as a former farming community with great food and proud and resilient people. It is also home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The birthplace of the environmental justice movement, poor black and some poor white communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental contamination linked to the burning of coal and the storing of the coal ash. Goldsboro is home to the Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee electric power plant which retired from burning coal in 2012 and is now natural gas fueled. Although the plant does not provide many jobs, it is one of the highest paying employers. The six million tons of coal ash will have to re-burned in order to remove the carbon from it.  The power company is seeking permits to begin construction of a new recycling unit expected to be operational in 2019.  Three hundred thousand pounds of coal ash will be recycled here each year for sale to the concrete industry.

Coal ash pollution directly affects the water, soil, and air of the greater Goldsboro area. Duke Energy has asserted that coal ash pollution does not exceed a radius of one-half mile. Community members disagree with this assessment and claim that the toxins travel further and are directly impacting their health and well-being. Wayne County residents have also endured flooding and high wind impacts during two major hurricanes in the past 3 years – Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. Many residents have yet to receive recovery money to help support the clean-up and restoration efforts.

The goal of the Goldsboro project is to quantify the impact of coal ash pollution within a 5-mile radius of the Duke Energy Plant. This will entail developing a focused and comprehensive sampling plan, including tap water, fish tissue and soil that can be used by the community to provide compelling data supporting their argument for the need for improved mitigation.

Project Impacts: Beneficiaries include community members of all ages who reside within the 5-mile radius of the plant as well as community members from the surrounding area who rely on fish from the river for food, wildlife for food and homegrown crops. Health risks will be lowered, and the expectation is that the high rates of cancers and other illnesses will diminish over time as a result. By bringing the community together around a common goal, the community leaders will be able to bring the needs of this underserved community to the forefront of policy- and decision-makers.

Project Outputs:

Outputs include:

  • A data repository
  • Maps (coal ash levels, impacts, changes across time)
  • Reports (to be used in negotiating with local politicians)
  • Educational materials to be used in the community


About the Community

Bobby Jones is the leader of Down East Coal Ash Coalition. A long-time resident and community organizer who, retired from 30 years of working at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Bobby has led the coalition for over four years. He is experienced working with others, negotiating and organizing.

As the community lead, Bobby commits to serving as the liaison between the scientist(s) and community. He will help facilitate access to data collection and assist in overcoming local/political/logistical hurdles as they arise.


Goldsboro team commences project with in-person meeting

(Featured photo courtesy of Bobby Jones)

On Thursday, June 27th, Jenny Phillippe, met up with Bobby Jones, Larsene Thomas, and the Downeast Coal Ash Coalition in their first in-person meeting on coal ash contamination in Goldbsoro. The all day meeting included various community meetings, meetings with local nonprofits, and a walk along the Neuse River. Jenny and the team will be working to understand the extent of coal ash contamination in the air, water, and soil.

Here’s a short article published in the Goldsboro Daily News:

Project Will Study Local Coal Ash Contamination


All updates for this project

Project Team

Community Lead


Bobby Jones is a lifelong community organizer/advocate and president of Down East Coal Ash Environmental and social justice coalition (DECAC). Bobby grew up doing farm work in the fields of eastern North Carolina and learned from an early age about the harm poisons such as DDT do to the environment and communities. He is passionate about protecting the planet for all and proactively addressing environmental contamination.

Since 2014, along with Ms. Larsene Taylor, DECAC members have worked to stop the poisoning of their communities, hold polluters accountable, start the healing process and proactively implement a supportive infrastructure for future disasters in the Goldsboro area.


Scientist Liaison

Bio coming soon!

Scientist Wanted

Bobby seeks a scientific partner to conduct water, soil, and fish tissue testing over the duration of approximately 1 year. This will include periodic retesting where necessary, developing a data repository, and prepare maps and reports.

The scientist should be within driving distance to Goldsboro to meet with the community on occasion and conduct the necessary sampling.

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.


Timeline and Outcome

Work will begin as soon as possible (February 2019) and conclude 15 months later. Sampling and testing will take place across the initial 12 months, with the last 3 months devoted to producing maps and reports with the community.


Desired Skills and Expertise

  • Background in toxicology, hydrology, water chemistry, or soil science
  • Experience sampling fish tissue for toxins preferred, but not required
  • Experience with scientific sampling and study design strongly preferred
  • Ability to translate difficult science terminology for a lay audience
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor
  • Strong listening and communication skills
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • Experience working in environmental justice communities preferred but not required
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in-person and able to observe the neighborhood with community leaders