The Coal Ash Decision
The Possum Point Coal Ash Story
Most people in Prince William County (PWC) do not know there are 4 million cubic yards of coal ash and contaminated water improperly stored at Possum Point in southeastern PWC. This massive amount of coal ash containing toxic heavy metals and other carcinogens is located adjacent to Quantico Creek, the Potomac River, and the many residents that live at Possum Point. The coal ash, also known as coal combustion residuals (CCR), is from nearly 50 years of burning coal by Dominion Virginia Power’s Possum Point power station, which was converted to oil and natural gas in 2003.
Coal ash contains Antimony, Arsenic, Boron, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, Molybdenum, Selenium, Thallium, Vanadium, and other cancer-causing agents. Because of the serious threat to humans and the environment from improperly stored coal ash, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in April 2015 a rule regulating the disposal of CCR. The regulations provide comprehensive requirements for the safe disposal of CCRs from coal-fired power plants.
Legal cases have linked improperly constructed coal ash disposal impoundments/ponds to cause harm to groundwater, and the EPA rule addresses the risks identified in these cases (i.e., leaking of contaminants into groundwater) by adding new requirements for coal ash impoundments and landfills. According to EPA’s rule, coal ash impoundments and landfills that are no longer receiving CCRs must be properly closed, impacting Dominion’s Possum Point coal ash.
Dominion’s closure plan is to discharge the contaminated water in the coal ash ponds and then move the coal ash to one large (71 acre) impoundment (Pond D) that Dominion claims is partially lined. However, a recent independent licensed professional engineer’s evaluation of Pond D’s lining determined that it does not meet current EPA requirements. Therefore, Pond D’s “partial” lining will not prevent contaminates from leaching into groundwater.
After treating, a permit to discharge the contaminated water into Quantico Creek was issued in January 2016. The permit established the maximum amount of deadly toxics allowed in the treated water. Discharging of the treated water was stopped in September 2016, when it was discovered that the treated water contained too much selenium.
Sadly, PWC residents are suffering today from the coal ash contaminates leaching into their groundwater. In addition, the natural environment around the Possum Point power plant is also suffering, including Quantico Creek, Potomac River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. For example, Dominion Virginia Power revealed the company dumped 33.7 million gallons of untreated coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek in May 2015. This illegal discharge is being investigated by the EPA as a violation of the Clean Water Act.
Dan and Patty Marrow, one of the PWC families living on Possum Point, are suffering from the serious affects of toxic heavy metals. Their well water is contaminated, having been tested by more than one independent lab. Their neighbors’ wells are also contaminated. For about 20 years, the Marrows lived like any normal family, drinking, cooking, and bathing in the contaminated water, unaware of the contamination. They were never warned by Dominion or PWC of the threat, nor that many millions of gallons of toxic water were illegally discharged into the Beaver Pond behind their home. Today, in addition to very serious health issues, their 20 acres of beautiful property and home are worthless, a serious problem for the retired couple. They thought they were living in their retirement home.
After not receiving any help from Dominion or the county, the Marrows paid $40,000 to have public water piped to their home. However, because all of the plumbing in their home was exposed to contaminates for many years, they cannot use the water for cooking or drinking. Some of Marrow’s neighbors and their children cannot afford bottled water and are still drinking water from their contaminated wells. On December 2016, Dominion announced that it would reimburse the Possum Point residents for hooking their homes to the public water. But unfortunately, some families cannot afford to pay to be hooked up to the public water and wait for reimbursement from Dominion. The Marrows have not even been assured that they will be reimbursed, since they made the change before Dominion announced that it would pay for connecting Possum Point homes to public water.
After dewatering Pond D, Dominion will excavate and move coal ash from four impoundments/ponds into Pond D. To complete its closure plan, Dominion has requested a solid waste permit from the State of Virginia that will enable it to bury the 4 million cubic yards of coal ash in Pond D in a method known as “cap-in-place.” Cap-in-place will cover the Pond D coal ash with a synthetic liner and a layer of soil and vegetation. Cap-in-place prevents surface water contamination by keeping rain out and run off from entering the nearby creek and river. However, the cap does not prevent groundwater from entering Pond D and leaching contaminates.
The permit is pending approval by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). DEQ will hold a public hearing on February 16, 2016, at Potomac High School in Dumfries at 7:00 p.m. and accept written comments through March 10, 2016.