UGA Research Shows that Levels of Toxins are Higher in Wildlife Living Close to Coal Ash Sites

Victoria Knight

Feb. 8, 2017

Raccoons were the subject of a study related to measuring toxin levels in wildlife that live close to coal ash disposal sites. (Photo credit: Felipe Hernández)



The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory is a research site is located directly on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, near Aiken, South Carolina. It’s also where UGA assistant professor Jim Beasley, and University of Florida graduate student, Felipe Hernandez, conducted a study to better understand how coal ash may affect local wildlife, particularly raccoons. Coal ash is what’s leftover after coal is burned at plants.

“Coal ash when it’s burned it concentrates a number of different trace elements into the ash.”

In the past, coal ash was often disposed of in water basins, kind of like ponds. But, wildlife, including raccoons often roam around these areas. Beasley and Hernandez found that raccoons who lived close to the coal ash basins had much higher levels of arsenic, selenium, and lead, in their body systems.

“The main message that I would take away from this is that raccoons are important sentinels of contaminant exposure. Sentinels are species that accumulate pollutants in tissues or display obvious signs of developmental or physiological impairment. So they provide a good baseline of understanding what contaminants are out there in the system.”

Beasley and his team are working on more research studies to understand how coal ash might be affecting other types of wildlife in the area. – See more at: