WATCH: How a Giant Coal Ash Dump Is Hurting Rural Georgia

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Why you should care

Because health concerns around toxic coal ash are building up as surely as the landfills it’s flooding.

When 39,000 tons of coal ash from a Duke Energy site spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina in 2014, it sparked a public awakening to the health risks of the industrial waste, which is what remains from burning fossil fuel in power plants across the United States. The toxic heavy metals that coal ash contains have been linked to everything from ulcers to lung and kidney cancer. Previously, that noxious brew was stored in unlined wastewater ponds on power utility properties often near lakes and streams. But since the North Carolina incident, landfills in Georgia — where it is cheaper to dump trash — have emerged as a new destination for some of that coal ash.

It’s part of a wider pattern. The Bible Belt disproportionately bears the burden of America’s toxic, nuclear and human waste, as OZY discovered in an investigation published Monday after studying thousands of pages of trash records from all 50 states. In this documentary, we explore the ramifications for Banks County, an otherwise idyllic farm-and-lake community that has seen real estate values plummet and families torn apart amid health concerns over the local landfill — which sees more than 120 trucks barreling through the countryside daily, delivering roughly 2 million tons of coal ash in 2017 alone. That total figure made up four-fifths of the coal ash sent that year to Georgia.

Waste Management Inc., which owns the Banks County landfill, says it launched a public awareness campaign before proceeding, and only plans to import another 500,000 tons to the area. But environmentalists say the impact of the waste’s toxins could last for decades. And for residents, the pain isn’t just physical or environmental. It is spiritual too.

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Numbers and factoids — fodder for your next cocktail party.