Case Filed to Protect Wateree River from Coal Waste Contamination
On behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, the Southern Environmental Law Center today filed suit to stop contamination of the Wateree River, nearby groundwater, and wetlands by coal ash lagoons of South Carolina Electric and Gas Company in southern Richland County, South Carolina.
“For forty years, these coal ash waste lagoons have been polluting South Carolina’s waters,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “They’re a disaster waiting to happen, perched on the banks of the Wateree River. We’re asking SCE&G to clean up its mess and stop discharging arsenic and other toxic pollutants into South Carolina’s waters.”
SCE&G’s 40 year old lagoons—holding over 2.4 million tons of wet coal ash waste on the banks of the Wateree River—have polluted groundwater, wetlands, and the Wateree River with arsenic, a toxic substance and a known carcinogen, and other pollutants. Tests discovered arsenic in the groundwater at 500 times the legal limit, and routinely at over 100 times the legal limit for arsenic.
“We’re asking that this toxic pollution be cleaned up,” said David Merryman, the Catawba Riverkeeper. “We are also acting to ensure that the public has a say in the pollution of some of our most important public natural resources – groundwater, the Wateree River, and wetlands.” The Catawba River’s name changes to the Wateree River at Lake Wateree.
Information from DHEC files shows polluted groundwater flows directly into the Wateree River. At times, the coal ash lagoons have also directly leaked and discharged arsenic-contaminated pollutants into the Wateree River.
The coal ash lagoons are unlined earthen structures holding millions of tons of coal ash sludge. Their location on the Wateree River raises the risk of a major environmental disaster for nearby and downriver communities. Just before 1 a.m. on December 22, 2008, the failure of a TVA lagoon sent coal ash waste tearing through nearby family homes and contaminated the Emory River in Tennessee, upriver from Chattanooga.
While SCE&G has a permit from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control for a discharge point of overflow waters from its finishing pond, it has never obtained a permit from DHEC for its discharges of arsenic and other pollutants into the groundwater and wetlands and its discharges of pollutants into the Wateree River through the leaks in the lagoons.
Under the South Carolina Pollution Control Act, the public must be given notice of a permit application, have a chance to comment or participate in public hearings, and ultimately the public can seek review of a permit in the courts. SCE&G avoided public comment, scrutiny and review by the courts by not seeking a permit. The Pollution Control Act allows members of the public, like the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, to bring suit when a polluter like SCE&G fails to obtain a permit.
Without a public process, SCE&G entered into private agreements with DHEC in 2001 and 2011, but not permits. The 2001 private agreement only required SCE&G to monitor its pollution. In the nonbinding 2011 private agreement; SCE&G indicates an intention to empty the coal ash lagoons ten years from now, but can back out at any time with 30 days notice. There was no public notice of the 2011 nonbinding agreement, and the agreements were not subject to public participation or comment.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbia. It asks that SCE&G be ordered to stop dumping more coal ash waste into the lagoons, empty the lagoons as soon as reasonably possible, store its coal ash waste outside the floodway and floodplain of the Wateree River in an appropriately lined landfill, and remediate its contamination of the groundwater and stop its discharges of arsenic and other pollutants into the Wateree River.
About the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a nonprofit organization with members in South and North Carolina that works to protect and restore the Catawba/Wateree River and its watershed.