An environmental organization is concerned about toxic chemicals making their way into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River from the Possum Point power plant near Dumfries.
Possum Point’s power plant used to burn coal to generate power. When coal burns it creates a residue, known as coal ash, which was pumped into coal ash ponds on the property before the plant switched to burning natural gas in 2003.
Dominion Virginia Power owns the plant. They were unable to provide the date when the Possum Point plant opened.
Coal ash contains toxic chemicals including arsenic, cadmium and selenium, which are exposed when stored with water in the coal ash ponds, according to Will Cleveland, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).
Dominion Virginia Power spokesman Dan Genest stated there are four coal ash storage ponds at Possum Point.
Dominion Power is draining the storage ponds and is placing all of the coal ash into the overflow pond, before capping and closing the overflow pond, according to Cleveland.
“At Possum Point because we have a clay-lined pond we have opted to go beyond the EPA requirements. Our plan is to move the ash from four of ponds to the clay-lined pond and then cap and close that pond,” said Genest.
3 to 4 years to close the ponds, Dominion says
According to Cleveland, there are concerns from the SELC about what Dominion Power is doing with the ponds.
Cleveland stated there was no closure plan for the ponds, and that Dominion Power was rushing to drain one of the storage ponds – named pond ‘E’ – to avoid stricter closure and pond monitoring requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will go into effect in October.
“[The rules have] requirements on how coal ash should be stored and managed, and how historic facilities should be closed. Because if you were to build a brand new coal fire burning power plant today, you could not store your ash in the type of ponds that the coal power plants of yesterday used – that would not be nearly protective enough of the environment,” said Cleveland.
Genest stated that Dominion is working on a closure plan to submit to DEQ, but they are working within the rights of their existing permits. He also stated that pond closures will be in full compliance with EPA standards and it will take 3 to 4 years to close the ponds.
Currently there is no requirement for a closure plan, although it is standard practice to do so, according to Cleveland.
One of the concerns that the SELC has with Dominion’s decision to close the ponds before the new rules take effect is that by doing so before the new stricter requirements, the ponds are more likely to leak, said Cleveland.
“If it gets into the groundwater, and residents nearby have private drinking water wells that draw from that water are going to be drinking groundwater…the other risk is that stuff gets into the groundwater and then it flows directly into the adjacent surface waters. So you have Quantico Creek, which flows into the Potomac River, and it’s got tons of pollutants in it [in that case],” said Cleveland.
Coal ash ponds have come under scrutiny in recent years
Recently, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) just asked for a $2.5 million settlement from Duke Energy for spilling 39,000 tons of coal ash – worth $295 million in ecological damage – into the Dan River in North Carolina, according to SELC documents.
The Potomac Riverkeeper Club and the Sierra Club sent a notice of intent to sue Dominion for violations of the Clean Water Act. The SELC has not formally filed a suit against Dominion Power yet.
Genest stated that Dominion Power disagrees with SELC’s statements in their intent to sue.
“We disagree with SELC’s allegations and characterizations of Dominion’s operations. We are complying with all state and federal laws on coal ash disposal…We are closing our ash ponds in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations, best engineering practices, and in an environmentally protective and cost effective manner,” said Genest.
The SELC wants Virginia utility companies to be more proactive in handling coal ash. The group wants utility companies to drain coal ash ponds and store the water a facilities designed to safely store coal ash, away from major rivers and tributaries.