Press Release | March 6, 2018

Dominion’s Coal Ash Pits Polluting Our Water with Arsenic and Radium

First Set of Required Groundwater Reports Reveal Significant Contamination

Charlottesville, VA — Compelled by a federal rule, Dominion recently released new data outlining the extent to which its coal ash ponds are contaminating groundwater around the Commonwealth. With more reports coming, the startling information begins to show just how significantly these coal ash pits are contaminating the groundwater with pollutants like arsenic, beryllium, lead, and radium.

“Even more troubling is that we know this contaminated groundwater is not contained,” said Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Nate Benforado. Expert analysis of each site’s specific hydrology—analysis that Benforado says is reinforced by these new reports—shows that the highly contaminated groundwater is flowing right into the adjacent rivers, including the James and Potomac.  
“If you want to see what coal ash is doing to our water take a look at so-called ‘Red Cove,’ an inlet reddened by the high iron content in a public park next to the coal ash lagoons at Dominion's Chesterfield Power Station,” said Benfordao. 

Sampling performed by the James River Association and Southern Environmental Law Center has revealed high concentrations of arsenic in the water and sediment at Red Cove, which is along the James River and near Henricus Historical Park. “The high levels of arsenic we have found in this public cove is not a coincidence—Dominion’s new groundwater well on the banks of Red Cove shows arsenic concentrations 11 times higher than the allowable limit. It’s very clear that Dominion’s contaminated groundwater is flowing into Red Cove,” said Benforado.

Dominion’s recently published data also reveal:

  • High levels of chemicals like boron and chlorides—which are the “leading indicators” according to the Environmental Protection Agency of whether coal ash pollutants are leaking out of the pits—are present in the groundwater at Bremo Power Station, Possum Point Power Station, and Chesterfield Power Station.
  • Groundwater at all three sites show higher than normal concentrations of radium, a radioactive element that can be found in coal ash and is commonly associated with nuclear waste. In many instances, the concentrations exceed the allowable limit.  
  • Chesterfield’s Upper and Lower Ash Ponds (approximately 15 million tons of coal ash) – located on what used to be the main channel of the James River   
    • 10 wells exceed the allowable limit for arsenic—in some instances, as high as 17 times the limit.
    • ​Exceedances of the allowable limits or regional screening levels for beryllium, chromium, radium, lead, cobalt, thallium, and lithium.
  • Bremo’s North Pond (approximately 6 million tons of coal ash) – located on the banks of the James River
    • Elevated levels of lithium, mercury, and radium.
  • Possum Point’s Pond D (approximately 4 million tons of coal ash) – located on a peninsula next to the Potomac  
    • Five of Dominion’s wells appear to have elevated radium concentrations, with one well actually exceeding the limit.  
    • Elevated levels of arsenic, beryllium, cobalt, and lithium, including in “sentinel wells” located between Pond D and the Potomac River, further confirming the fact that the pollution is not contained.

The Environmental Protection Agency last week proposed rolling back many important safeguards for coal ash disposal, putting water across the Commonwealth and the country at risk from pollution. “The federal government wants to give utilities a pass when it comes to keeping our waters safe, now it’s up to Virginia lawmakers to protect the Commonwealth’s precious water resources from Dominion’s pollution,” said Benforado.  
Virginia lawmakers have repeatedly taken up the issue of coal ash in the legislature, demanding more information on Dominion’s plans and pushing for recycling, which could create local jobs and fulfill a manufacturing need.  So far, Dominion has not presented any plans other than capping the leaking pits in place, which will ensure continued pollution.  


For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our

Press Contacts

Nate Benforado

Senior Attorney