Use of lignite in power generation has led to increasing environmental problems associated not only with gaseous emissions, but also with the disposal of ash residues. In particular, use of low quality coals with high ash content results in huge quantities of both fly and bottom ashes to be disposed of. A main problem related to coal ash disposal is the heavy metal content of the residue. In this regard, experimental results of numerous studies indicate that toxic trace metals may leach when fly and bottom ashes are in contact with water. In this study, fly and bottom ash samples obtained from thermal power plants, namely Yenikoy, Kemerkoy and Yatagan, located at the southwestern coast of Turkey, were subjected to toxicity tests such as the extraction (EP) and toxicity characteristic leaching (TCLP) procedures of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the so-called 'Method A' extraction procedure of the American Society of Testing and Material (ASTM). The geochemical composition of ash samples showed variations depending on the coal burned in the plants. Furthermore, the EP, TCLP and ASTM toxicity tests showed variations such that the ash samples were classified as 'toxic waste' based on EP and TCLP results whereas they were classified as 'non-toxic' based on ASTM results, indicating test results are pH dependent. When the extraction results were compared with the chemical composition of water samples obtained in the vicinity of the thermal power plants, it was found that the results obtained using the ASTM procedure cannot be used to predict subsurface contamination whereas the EP and TCLP procedures can be used. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.