New study shows Dominion coal ash plans are holding back Virginia

This aerial view shows some of the millions of tons of coal ash stored at Dominion's Chesterfield plant along the James River outside Richmond. (© Google)

The approximately 30 million tons of toxic coal ash that Dominion is storing in unlined pits at four Virginia power plants could be recycled and used in building materials according to a new study.

The report, co-authored by Kevin Gardner and Scott Greenwood from the University of New Hampshire, reveals that recycling coal ash in Virginia is not only a feasible remedy to handling this toxic substance, but would also be a cost effective alternative to Dominion’s current plans to cap leaking coal ash pits in place. Dominion is scheduled to release an assessment of its coal ash pits tomorrow, Friday, December 1, 2017.

“Recycling coal ash in Virginia would not only prove a safer remedy for unlined, leaking coal ash pits, but it would also be an economically sound decision for the Commonwealth,” said Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “We have the opportunity to make a good decision now about how to handle coal ash—recycling the ash for use in concrete cleans up a big problem, creates a useful and marketable product, and puts people to work. Dominion’s alternative to cap the ponds in place isn’t a long-term solution because, sooner or later, these sites will leak. It’s not realistic that millions of tons of toxic coal ash can be left on riverbanks, in many cases saturated by groundwater, without problems developing.”

According to estimates from the Virginia Department of Transportation, 60 to 70 percent of all concrete used in transportation projects in the state contains ash, which makes the concrete stronger and more durable. But Virginia concrete manufacturers are being forced to import ash from other states and other countries to get the ash they need. The demand for coal ash in Virginia for uses like concrete is estimated to be 16 million tons between 2015 and 2030. With fewer coal-fired power plants actively generating ash, recycling impounded ash will be an increasingly important source to meet this need.

Rather than putting its coal ash to use, Dominion is on the brink of making plans to close its four major coal ash waste sites around the state with a “cap in place” plan.

“It is clear that leaving Dominion’s toxic coal ash in the ground, where it will continue to leak into our rivers and poison our drinking water supplies, must not be the final solution when coal ash can be safely used to rebuild roads and our crumbling infrastructure,” said Potomac Riverkeeper, Dean Naujoks. “We urge Governor-elect Northam to tell China to keep their coal ash. We have plenty of coal ash in the Commonwealth to put Virginian’s back to work.”

This proposal to put a lid on each of these unlined, leaking coal ash pits will not only endanger the groundwater and nearby rivers and streams, but also means that Dominion is choosing the cheap and risky fix over a long-term solution that could mean jobs and revenue for the state.

At its four major coal ash sites Dominion has contended with ongoing pollution problems.

  • Possum Point Power Station (Dumfries, Va.) – As much as 33 million gallons of polluted coal ash water dumped into Quantico Creek, which feeds the Potomac River.
  • Chesterfield Power Station (Chester, Va.) – Coal ash pit built directly in the original riverbed of the James River and arsenic levels found in the ground higher than at sites deemed Superfund sites by the EPA.
  • Bremo Power Station (Bremo Bluff, Va.) – Arsenic at 20 times the allowable level found in groundwater and high levels of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium detected in a nearby residential well.
  • Chesapeake Energy Center (Chesapeake, Va.) – Federal judge ruled the leaking lagoons are violating the Clean Water Act and deemed Dominion’s original plan to merely “cap in place” unacceptable.

Dominion’s plans stands in stark contrast to the approximately 90 million tons of coal ash utilities have agreed or been forced to excavate across the region, and in some cases recycled into concrete, in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. 

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