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Critics of Dominion Coal-Ash Disposal Plans Cite Health Risks to Rivers


Monday, January 4, 2016   

RICHMOND, Va. – The Dominion utility company’s plans for closing coal ash impoundments at four power plants are drawing criticism.

Dominion has asked for Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permission to close the huge coal ash ponds at power stations on the James and Elizabeth rivers, and on a tributary of the Potomac.

Brad McLane, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, says the DEQ looks likely to approve Dominion's plan to drain the water out, release it into the rivers and bury the ash by capping the impoundments.

He says that would release mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals in the ash into the rivers.

"A toxic soup of different metals that are harmful to aquatic life, and to human health,” he states. “Putting caps on top of the problem just isn't going to fix anything."

McLane notes a Duke Energy coal ash spill two years ago all but killed a huge portion of the Dan River.

Dominion insists the plan won't damage the waterways. Disposal is likely to take years.

One of the impoundments is nearly 100 acres and sits behind a wall 100 feet high.

McLane agrees the Dominion impoundments should be drained, but says the water should be treated with crushed iron before it's released.

He says the dried ash should then be put into lined landfills to help prevent them from leaching toxins.

McLane maintains Dominion's plans are likely the cheapest way to do the job, and won't be doing it thoroughly.

"No one except Dominion is getting the kind of free pass that we're seeing in this permit,” he maintains. “I've been looking at permits for years - I've never seen one with numbers this high."

Under pressure from coal and power plant allies in Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency classified coal ash as a special waste rather than a hazardous waste.

The U.S. produces about 140 million tons of coal ash a year – one of the largest types of solid waste by weight.

As use of coal power slowly declines, plants around the country are wrestling with how to dispose of more than a half-century's ash waste.

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