26 January 2016
Frances Kerr and James Tinker have lived in the charming two-story, hundred-year-old farm house in Bremo Bluff for eleven years. They never imagined, when they bought the house, that its proximity to Virginia Power’s Bremo Bluff Power Plant might one day cause them concern.
Dominion Power’s permit application to the Virginia Water Board seeking permission to discharge into the James River contaminated water from coal ash ponds – the remnants of decades of coal-fired power generated at Bremo Bluff – caught the attention of environmental groups, including the James River Association (JRA.) As part of their investigation into the advisability of Dominion Power’s plan, the JRA contacted the power plant’s neighbors and offered to have their wells tested for contamination with toxins associated with coal ash. Kerr and Tinker took them up on their offer, and had their well tested.
The report on the water in their well, indicating the presence of hexavalent chromium, or “chromium six,” alarmed the couple. Although the level of hexavalent chromium did not exceed federal limits for safe drinking water, those levels are now being reassessed by the EPA in the wake of an internal study determining that hexavalent chromium when consumed in drinking water is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” causing cancers of the mouth, stomach, and intestines. Inhaled hexavalent chromium has long been known to increase mouth and respiratory cancers, leading the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish strict regulations limiting exposure in industries like metal-working. Recent studies show that exposure to the chemical can increase the risk of developing other cancers elsewhere in the body, as it actually alters cellular DNA.