How Much Have We Lost?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Quantico Creek Area Coal Ash Remediation to Move Forward

Picture of coal ash on hand of Amy Adams from
Appalachian Voices during Dan River Spill (NBC News)
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules on the construction, maintenance and remediation of coal ash ponds which are used at coal-fired power plants.  This has consequences for the 36th District and communities along the Potomac River and other areas of the Commonwealth.

There are currently five old coal ash ponds at Dominion Resources Possum Point Power Station in Quantico, Virginia which is in the 36th District.  Coal ash or fly ash is the end product of burning coal to create electricity.  Decades ago, it was common practice to mix it with water and store it in ponds into a "slurry."

If ponds are not properly lined with impermeable barriers, then they can leach toxic metals into ground water and surface water.  According to some sources, depending on the coal used, they can leach toxic elements such as arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, thallium, and vanadium, along with dioxins and PAH compounds.  Metals like this store in the fatty tissues of fish and can aggregate in fish consumers such as birds or humans.  Modern practice is to store ash in dry landfills. 

Picture of Possum Point Power Station in Quantico, VA
Courtesy of Dominion Resources
The Dominion ponds were built in the 1950's to these older standards and given that the plant was converted to natural gas and oil, the ponds are no longer active, but were capped off with dirt and are still on site.  They are not being monitored but are currently leaching heavy metals into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River due to the construction methods used at the time.

The ponds recently came to light after Dominion disclosed them to the public following a spill of 50,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in February, 2014.  After the disclosure, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed suit in an effort to force Dominion to clean the ponds up.

On Wednesday, I had a meeting with several Dominion representatives about this problem and they advised me that once the rules were issued, they expected to begin remediation on these ponds in accordance with practices agreed upon with state and federal regulators, but they could not begin work until the EPA made remediation rules clear.

Yesterday, in response to the new rules, Dominion announced that they are closing all coal ash ponds currently in use.

Water quality reports from the tidal Potomac River still show impairments of numerous metals and toxins such as PCB's and mercury.  Eliminating the sources of these contaminants is a vital step in solving these problems. 

Now that the rules are issued, I am pleased that Dominion will start making plans to remove this environmental hazard from our community, and I will continue to stay on top of this situation and push our state regulators as cleanup plans move forward. 

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