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Something in the Water? Gulf Power Faces Lawsuit for Coal-Ash

PHOTO: Conservation groups say the Scholz Generating plant near Sneads is leaking coal ash into the Apalachicola River. Photo credit: Google Earth
PHOTO: Conservation groups say the Scholz Generating plant near Sneads is leaking coal ash into the Apalachicola River. Photo credit: Google Earth
June 6, 2014

SNEADS, Fla. - Producing the electricity that powers Florida homes can have a negative impact on the state's water supply. That's the charge in a lawsuit filed Thursday against Gulf Power Co., alleging the company is in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The document charges the company with illegally discharging hazardous waste into the Apalachicola River from its 40-acre coal-ash pond near Sneads.

"This counsels in favor of strong coal-ash regulations and control, and currently we just don't have that," said Alisa Coe with Earthjustice, the attorney on the case. "Our household waste right now is better regulated than these toxic heavy metals and other pollutants."

According to the lawsuit, groups have observed coal ash leaking into the river. A spokesperson for Gulf Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, said that after they became aware of the pending legal complaint, tests were conducted at the site that determined the company was in compliance.

In general, coal-ash contains carcinogens such as arsenic, lead and the neurotoxin mercury. The company has a permit to discharge treated coal-ash water, but the groups allege the contamination is leaking at un-permitted points on the river and has not been treated.

The lawsuit is asking Gulf Power to clean up the site. With Florida as the seventh largest coal-ash producer in the nation, Coe said it's time the state paid more attention to what's happening to the byproduct of coal-fired power plants.

"In Florida, our waterways are our life," she said, " and having clean water is so important, both to the way we live our lives, but to our economy and to our future as a state."

A coal-ash spill occurred earlier this year further north, on the Dan River in North Carolina, spilling 140,000 tons of toxic water into the river. Witnesses say coal-ash sludge now coats the bottom of that riverbed for 70 miles downstream.

More information on coal ash is online at earthjustice.org/coalash.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL