SCE&G Removes over 1 Million Tons of Coal Ash from Wateree Site
Nashville, TN – According to its semi-annual report under a settlement agreement negotiated by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, South Carolina Electric and Gas now has removed over 1 million tons of coal ash from its unlined, leaking coal ash lagoon on the Catawba-Wateree River near Columbia, S.C., and arsenic contamination in the groundwater has dropped dramatically. In the first six months of 2016, SCE&G removed almost 213,000 tons of coal ash from the unlined, leaking lagoon, bringing the total amount of removed ash to 1,034,000 tons. The coal ash is being excavated pursuant to the settlement agreement. The amount removed is about 45 percent of the 2.4 million tons of coal ash stored in the Wateree lagoon.
At the same time, arsenic in the groundwater at the site has plummeted. Arsenic contamination has dropped to its lowest recorded level in the monitoring well that had registered the highest arsenic contamination. That well prior to excavation had an arsenic level of 690 ppb. In the most recent sampling in May of 2016, the well showed arsenic contamination of 54.4 ppb – a 94 percent drop since excavation began. Another monitoring well has dropped to 7.6 ppb, below South Carolina’s drinking water standard for arsenic of 10 ppb – a 95 percent drop from a pre-excavation reading of 164 ppb. At all other monitoring wells, arsenic was less than 5 ppb, or under half the drinking water contamination standard.
“These results show that coal ash can be safely removed from unlined pits to safe storage or recycling for concrete and that excavating ash eliminates toxic water pollution,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “SCE&G is setting a standard for responsible handling of coal ash, and South Carolina’s water resources are cleaner as a result. But in Tennessee, TVA continues to pollute the rivers with unlined coal ash storage across the state and proposes to continue doing so indefinitely.”
TVA has in the past contended that the drop in arsenic contamination at S.C. sites is due to dewatering. However, the coal ash pit being excavated by SCE&G has long been filled with coal ash and has no meaningful amount of water in it. In fact, the findings of TVA’s own consultant, the Electric Power Research Institute, contradict TVA’s assertion that Closure-in-Place will be “equally” protective when ash is submerged or saturated in groundwater—as TVA admits is the case at the majority of impoundments it evaluated in a recent environmental analysis.
SCE&G and South Carolina’s other utilities are removing all their coal ash from unlined waterfront storage sites to safe, dry lined storage away from rivers and separated from groundwater, or they are recycling it into concrete. The Southern Environmental Law Center negotiated settlement agreements with each of South Carolina’s utilities requiring excavation of coal ash at three different sites across the state, including SCE&G’s Wateree site. The utilities have committed themselves to the S.C. Public Service Commission and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to remove the coal ash from their other unlined waterfront sites and are moving forward with those projects.
“SCE&G is protecting the water quality of the Catawba-Wateree River by removing the coal ash from this waterside lagoon,” said Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper. “Duke Energy is fighting to keep its coal ash in leaking, unlined pits on Lake Wylie and Lake Norman, so the Catawba River remains at risk from Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution. We wish that Duke Energy would show the same level of responsibility as SCE&G.”