Duke study shows coal ash ponds leak contaminants


Analysis of the water samples found significant increases in the levels of boron, strontium, chlorine, sulfate, magnesium, calcium, arsenic, and vanadium in the water below the power plant, as opposed to the background samples taken above it.  All of those chemicals are associated with coal ash residue.

The James River Association’s Upper James Riverkeeper Pat Calvert said the Duke University study “backs our concerns that unlined coal ash ponds leak.”

The level of arsenic found in Holman Creek at its discharge point into the James river, after it had flowed alongside coal ash ponds at the power plant, was 45.4 parts per billion, which is more than 4 times the EPA’s allowable limit for safe drinking water.  The background level, from the sample taken above the power plant, was 0.8 parts per billion.

Rob Richardson, Senior Communications Specialists with Dominion Power, said that the company is “taking a look at the report, and reviewing the study.”

Dominion reached an agreement with the James River Association earlier in 2016 to enhance the treatment of water being discharged from the coal ash ponds into the James River as part of a process to “de-water” the ponds.  Dominion’s original plan included a “mixing zone” which used the water in the river to dilute contaminants to acceptable levels; under the agreement with the James River Association, the water is now thoroughly cleaned before it is discharged into the river.

Richardson said in an email that, “Dominion has submitted the application to the Department of Environmental Quality for a solid waste permit.  We expect a draft permit to be public noticed soon – probably next month.  With the draft notice will come a date for an informational meeting and another date for a public hearing.  Typically, the public hearing is about a month after the notice is issued.”

Dominion would like to “cap in place” the ash residue that remains after the water has been removed. Opponents insist the coal ash must be stored in lined pits or otherwise safely disposed.  The “cap in place” option would place a non-permeable membrane “cap” over the de-watered ash ponds.  Environmentalists argue that the pits themselves must also be lined with this non-permeable membrane – or that one of a number of other options which safely contain the residue should be used – to prevent leaching of coal ash contaminants into the surrounding environment.

Dominion is working to close ash ponds in response to a 2015 EPA ruling requiring the closure of ash ponds at facilities that no longer use coal to generate power.  That ruling was made in response to two coal ash spills in North Carolina and Tennessee.

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