updated 6/29/2009 7:55:36 PM ET 2009-06-29T23:55:36

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday made public a list of 26 communities in 10 states where residents are potentially threatened by coal ash storage ponds similar to one that flooded a neighborhood in Tennessee last year.

North Carolina has the most sites on the list, a dozen. The largest concentration is near Cochise, Ariz., where there are seven storage ponds.

The agency said it will inspect each of the 44 coal ash sites located near communities to make certain they are structurally sound. The sites are being classified as potentially highly hazardous because they are near where people live and not because of any discovered defect.

"The high hazard potential means there will be probable loss of human life if there is a significant dam failure," said Matt Hale, director of EPA's office of research, conservation and recovery. "It is a measure of what would happen if the dam would fail. It is not a measure of the stability of the dam."

Coal ash, a product of burning coal, is kept in liquid or a slurry, in containment ponds or dams. The EPA lists more than 400 such impoundments across the country, but the 44 singled out Monday represent those that are near populated areas, posing a higher risk of danger.

Last December, two days before Christmas, a coal ash pond broke near Kingston, Tenn., sending 5 million cubic yards of ash and sludge across more than 300 acres, destroying or damaging 40 homes. The incident prompted a review of the safety of such storage ponds that hold the coal-burning waste byproduct near large coal-burning power plants.

Toxic metals
The storage ponds hold fly ash, bottom ash, coal slag and flue gas residues that contain toxic metals such as arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead and mercury, although generally at low concentrations.

Until now, the national coal ash site list has not been provided to the public. Earlier this month the Army Corps of Engineers said it didn't want the locations disclosed because of national security and that it could help terrorists target such facilities. Hale said that issue has been resolved.

The EPA has been to half of the 44 sites and expects to have reports on those sites in the near future, Hale said. The EPA inspections are continuing. The EPA also is reviewing state inspection reports at some of the sites.

The seven ponds near Cochise, Ariz., hold material from the Apache Station Combustion Waste Disposal Facility operated by Arizona Electric Power Cooperative.

The 10 states, the number of sites, and communities are:

_North Carolina, 12 (Belmont, Walnut Cove, Spencer, Eden, Mount Holy, Terrell and Arden).

_Arizona, 9 (Cochise, Joseph City).

_Kentucky, 7 (Louisa, Harrodsburg, Ghent and Louisville).

_Ohio, 6 (Waterford, Brilliant and Cheshire).

_West Virginia, 4 (Willow Island, St. Albans, Moundsville, New Haven).

_Illiniois, 2 (Havana, Alton).

_Indiana, 1 (Lawrenceburg).

_Pennsylvania, 1 (Shippingport).

_Georgia, 1 (Milledgeville).

_Montana, 1 (Colstrip).

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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