Coal ash cleanup paying off in South Carolina

Coal ash from a South Carolina utility is stored prior to use by a concrete manufacturer. (© Hollis Bennett)

South Carolina utilities have been issuing groundwater monitoring reports as they remove coal ash from their unlined coal as pits, and there are clear signs that groundwater pollution is dropping.

These findings reinforce the wise move recently taken by the South Carolina legislature to pass new guidelines for commercial coal ash storage in the state. The toxin-laden ash must now be stored dry, in Class III landfills, which are lined and located away from the banks of major waterways. These protections reduce the threat of groundwater contamination and massive spills into our rivers, lakes, and drinking water sources.

Already utilities in South Carolina are using Class III landfill standards for their onsite coal ash storage and they are excavating waterfront, unlined coal ash lagoons to such landfills. Utilities also excavate some coal ash to be sold to concrete manufacturers.

Sout Carolina Electric & Gas issued its latest groundwater monitoring report in early 2016. The findings demonstrate the quick impact moving coal ash can have. In one monitoring well at the utility’s Wateree plant, upstream of Columbia, arsenic had contaminated the groundwater at 43 times the legal limit. The most recent testing shows that contamination dropped from 432 ppb to 2.9 ppb—a 99 percent decrease. Another monitoring well showed a 95 percent decrease in arsenic. Other pollutants, including lead, cadmium, and sulfate, also tested at lower levels.

These clear and measurable results are notable as utilities in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina attempt to make the case that covering leaking coal ash ponds is as safe as removal.

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