Press Release | September 17, 2014

Conservation Groups Uncover Decades of Coal Ash Pollution into Potomac River

Charlottesville, VA – Five coal ash ponds at Dominion’s Possum Point power plant have been illegally leaking toxic pollutants for decades into groundwater and two popular waterways near Washington, D.C., charged conservation groups in a notice filed today.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the Potomac Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club, sent notice today to Dominion and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that it will bring suit under the Clean Water Act to stop the release of coal ash pollutants, such as arsenic and cadmium, into Quantico Creek just before it empties into the Potomac River.

“Virginians were already harmed by coal ash from the Dan River spill earlier this year,” said Greg Buppert of Southern Environmental Law Center. “Nothing short of moving all of the coal ash to dry, lined storage away from waterways is an acceptable solution.”

The notice outlines how Dominion abandoned three of the five coal ash ponds at Possum Point almost fifty years ago and has since neglected to monitor or remediate these unlined, uncapped ponds. Dominion had not been forthcoming about the existence of the three ash ponds, and it only sent notification to state officials after this year’s catastrophic coal ash spill in the Dan River thrust coal ash pollution into the national spotlight. Dominion is currently seeking a new permit from DEQ to continue the pollution.

“Instead of giving Dominion a license to continue polluting our waterways, the state needs to enforce a thorough clean up of Possum Point’s coal ash,” said Glen Besa of Sierra Club. “Dominion’s failure to even disclose the decades-old, unpermitted coal ash pits until recently raises serious questions about its willingness to address these ongoing problems.”

In addition, two active coal ash ponds occupying 92 acres at Possum Point have been polluting both groundwater and the nearby waterways in violation of the Clean Water Act for at least a decade. Dominion’s groundwater monitoring data show heavy metals levels up to 127 times state standards. Although both Dominion and DEQ have known about the ongoing coal ash pollution at these two ponds, neither has made any attempt to stop the contamination.

Furthermore, EPA’s assessment of these two coal ash ponds indicate that they pose a ‘significant hazard’ or potential for harm to surrounding communities and infrastructure if a dam failure or misoperation were to occur. “The Potomac River, which flows through our nation’s capital to the Chesapeake Bay, has tremendous historic, commercial, and recreational value,” said Sarah Rispin of Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. “The leaching of toxic heavy metals from Possum Point into the river is just another example of abuses of this national treasure that we have allowed to continue for too long. We expect Dominion to take responsibility for its half-century legacy of pollution and help restore the health of the river.”

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has coal ash ponds from power plants on its banks, and SELC is partnering with conservation groups throughout the region to protect communities and the environment from the dangers of coal ash pollution. Following lawsuits by the Southern Environmental Law Center, two of the three utilities in the Carolinas—South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper—are removing coal ash from unlined pits near rivers in South Carolina to safer, dry, lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes. In addition, SELC currently represents dozens of groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits to clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites throughout North Carolina.


About Southern Environmental Law Center: The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of about 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

About Sierra Club: The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide and over 15,000 members in Virginia. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation.

About Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc.: Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. works to protect the public's right to clean water in our rivers and streams. We stop pollution to promote safe drinking water, protect healthy river habitats, and enhance public use and enjoyment. We work directly with communities to help raise awareness and advocate for clean water.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Greg Buppert

Senior Attorney and Natural Gas Regional Leader

Phone: 434-977-4090