POSSUM POINT COAL ASH PONDS

 
Aerial photo of the five Possum Point Coal Ash Ponds. Photo Credit: SELC

Aerial photo of the five Possum Point Coal Ash Ponds. Photo Credit: SELC

OUR POSITION

PRKN is using litigation and grassroots political outreach to push for a full cleanup of Possum Point’s coal ash pollution, investigation of Dominion’s handling of coal ash, and the excavation and removal of all coal ash at the site to a lined landfill away from the Potomac River.  Our goal is to make sure these toxic coal ash ponds are no longer a threat to Quantico Creek, the Potomac and public drinking water supplies.

Possum point

Dominion, one of Virginia's largest energy companies, owns and operates the Possum Point Power Plant, located just south of Alexandria on a peninsula between Quantico Creek and the Potomac River. The plant burned coal from 1955 to 2003. Coal ash, the waste produced from burning coal, is disposed of at the site in five “ponds” that hold over a billion gallons of toxic coal ash and contaminated water. Although the plant switched to natural gas in 2003, the ponds are still being used to store millions of tons of this toxic slurry - all of which is located along the banks of Quantico Creek.  

Coal ash contains a range of metals that are toxic at high levels, including lead, arsenic, chromium, selenium and vanadium, and is typically stored in unlined pits at coal plants, often built where wetlands once were, or constructed on hillsides with large earthen and rock berms to contain the ash and stormwater that combines to create coal ash “ponds.” Subsequently, this slurry can leach out of the ponds and pollute nearby groundwater and waterways. This can be expedited from severe rainstorm events. In 2014, Potomac Riverkeeper Network discovered that all five ponds at Possum Point were seeping directly into the Creek or leaching coal ash waste into local groundwater around the facility, resulting in contamination of the groundwater and illegal surface water discharges from the site. 

Following this discovery, on June 22 2015, Potomac Riverkeeper filed a complaint to EPA Criminal Investigation Division describing potential discharging or dewatering waste water from Dominion’s coal ash pond E at Possum Point into an unnamed tributary (known as the Beaver Pond) of Quantico Creek.

In September of 2014, Potomac Riverkeeper Network, represented by Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), filed a 60-day Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue Dominion for illegal discharges of toxic coal ash into Quantico Creek and ground water.

For more general information on coal ash, CLICK HERE.

Current Status 

Since filing Notice of Intent, PRKN has been monitoring the facility for illegal discharges into Quantico Creek and taking water and sediment samples at the site perimeter, to test for unsafe levels of heavy metals. We have also joined state lawmakers in calling for testing of drinking water wells for nearby residents, to find out whether their drinking water has been affected by the coal ash leaks into groundwater.   

November 20, 2015 - Potomac Riverkeeper Network began gearing up to fight Dominion’s latest effort to avoid cleaning up its coal ash mess at the Possum Point power plant near Quantico, Virginia. A proposed discharge permit revision would enable Dominion to dump tens of millions of gallons of coal ash waste pond water contaminated with toxic metals directly into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s draft permit fails to include any limits on metals from one discharge point, and completely ignores the impact this massive discharge may have on Quantico Creek, a critical spawning area for striped bass and catfish. See draft permit HERE. Read PRKN's formal comments on the draft permit HERE. Read expert reports HERE.

December 16, 2015 - On December 8, nearly a hundred people crowded into DEQ’s office in Woodbridge, Virginia to voice their concerns and opposition to Dominion’s plan, ok’d by Virginia regulators, to dump over 100 million gallons of contaminated coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River.  Potomac Riverkeeper’s opposition to the draft permit allowing the discharge was supported by state Senator-elect Scott Surovell, Prince William County officials, other environmental groups and local residents, all of whom assailed DEQ officials for the lack of public notice, lack of detail in the permit, and failure to set proper limits on toxic metals discharges.

February 26, 2016 -- Potomac Riverkeeper Network filed a petition to appeal with our attorneys from Southern Environmental Law Center. In addition, we submitted requests to the EPA for a criminal investigation on the relationship between Dominion Virginia Power and the Department of Environmental Quality. Prince William County and the State of Maryland both filed notices to appeal the permit. The Town of Dumfries has voted to request an EPA criminal investigation.

Earlier in the year, Dominion Virginia Power revealed the company dumped 33.7 million gallons of untreated coal ash waste water from its Possum Point Power Station in May 2015 into Quantico Creek.  Dominion Power then met privately with Virginia DEQ on February 3rd and revised its number to 27.5 million gallons, which is still more contaminated coal ash water than was spilled into the Dan River by Duke Energy in 2014. Dominion didn't publicly acknowledge it dumped untreated coal ash water until after the company received approval of its permit modification from Virginia DEQ and the State Water Board on January 14th 2016.

During a routine flyover last June, Potomac Riverkeeper Network discovered Pond E was empty, prompting Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) to notify DEQ Director David Paylor that pond E may have been drained into Quantico Creek. On June 19, 2015 Director Paylor responded by email; “we know that water was moved between ponds but our best information is that no water was discharged to state waters.”

On June 22 2015, Potomac Riverkeeper filed a complaint to EPA Criminal Investigation Division describing potential discharging or dewatering waste water from Dominion’s coal ash pond E at Possum Point into an unnamed tributary (known as the Beaver Pond) of Quantico Creek. On January 19, Potomac Riverkeeper, PRKN filed a follow up complaint to EPA CID that Dominion’s engineering report revealed the company did dump waste water from coal ash pond E to Quantico Creek in May of 2015.

Additional ResourcesMarch 14, 2016 -- WAMU88.5FM News breaks a story on the relationship between DEQ and Dominion:

"Activists are concerned about the coziness they say exists between Dominion and Virginia's environmental regulators. Public documents obtained by WAMU 88.5 show that in 2013, Dominion paid for David Paylor, the head of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to attend the Masters golf tournament in Georgia, one of the most sought-after sports tickets in the country.

The value of the trip was estimated to be $2,300, according to Paylor’s 2013 financial disclosure statement. Dominion also picked up the tab for a $1,200 outing to O’Toole’s, an Irish pub in Augusta that Paylor patronized along with nine others."

On May 22, WAMU runs the story on the radio and Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks is interviewed on The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

May 9, 2016 - Dominion held a pre-emptive open house for reporters before releasing contaminated coal ash waste water on Monday, May 9th into Quantico Creek. This is the beginning of over 200 million gallons to be released over the next year.

Potomac Riverkeeper Network and the State of Maryland, which has jurisdiction over the river, are still fighting Dominion’s permit to dewater the ponds. Dominion is not using “the best available technologies” to treat the water, as is required by federal law. North Carolina, for example, requires more stringent limits on arsenic in treated coal-ash water. We also object that treated water will be tested by contractors paid by Dominion. 

Due to public pressure brought by PRKN, community members, some lawmakers and many others, Dominion agreed to treat the waste water at levels above what is required in the permit. However, Dominion is not being required to use “the best available technologies” to treat the water, as is required by federal law.

In addition to the release of waste water, we continue to be concerned about contaminated ground water and drinking water wells in the community around Possum Point. State Senator Scott Surovell has made multiple attempts to get Virginia DEQ and Dominion to retap the two Dominion monitoring wells closest to residential properties (located only about 100 feet from Brian West home at 18411) but both Dominion and DEQ (DEQ Director David Paylor and Secretary Molly Ward) all refused his request. Dominion's ground water monitoring wells allegedly collapsed and have provided no data ground water data for approximately 20 years, despite being required under their current permit to provide critical ground water monitoring data to see if flow of contaminated ground water is moving toward residential properties and drinking water supplies.

Prince William County is concerned about the inconsistent test results on lead and is paying to have two residents’ wells retested to determine whether the well water is being contaminated by Dominion.

Both Dominion and DEQ want to issue a solid waste permit without having critical ground water monitoring data closest to people's homes. They want to approve the permit despite having data (from both Virginia Tech and an Independent Lab) that shows two drinking wells located less than 1500 feet from Dominion's coal ash ponds are contaminated with a variety of metals found in coal ash. 

The state has previously confirmed Dominion coal ash Pond E has no liner and the Pond D only has a partial liner with documented ground water contamination leaking from Pond E and Pond D dating back over 30 years. Yet, the state does not seem to be concerned about how the flow of contaminated ground water is moving toward and negatively impacting people’s drinking water and their property values. Residents are living on bottled water, paying for their own water lines to be hooked up and their properties significantly devalued as a result of these coal ash ponds. 

Researchers at Duke University who say they have developed a method to link water contamination to coal ash have taken samples near Dominion Virginia Power facilities in Fluvanna and Chesterfield counties. Duke University has successfully tested “forensic tracers,” namely distinctive isotopes of boron and strontium, two elements found in coal ash effluent, that would distinguish between contamination coming from coal ash and other sources. The drinking wells tested on Possum Point Road had both boron and strontium in the sample results.

June 2016 -- The State of Maryland dropped its appeal of Dominion’s grossly inadequate Possum Point discharge permit. Virginia’s DEQ issued a statement that the “discharge permit issued by Virginia was fully protective of our valuable estuaries and is fully consistent with the laws and regulations of both states and the federal government.” This extremely misleading statement ignores the fact that "Best Available Technology" as required by the Clean Water Act is not being used to treat contaminated ash water. Duke Energy is required to do this in North Carolina and we feel the Potomac River deserves the same level of protection as North Carolina rivers. Prince George's County's agreement with Dominion on the discharge permit ignores on-going contamination leaking and seeping from ash ponds as well as over 30 years of documented ground water contamination discharging into the river. Contaminants have also been discovered in drinking wells near Possum Point, posing a serious public health risk. Our coal ash campaign forced Dominion to install a $35 million treatment technology and exposed DEQ’s flawed permitting process that would have allowed discharging of toxic pollutants harmful to aquatic life and human health. The Potomac River deserves better! We continue our appeal to correct Virginia DEQ's failure to make Dominion comply with the Clean Water Act. This fight is far from over! There will be public hearings for Dominion's solid waste permit in the very near future. We will need your voices once again!

September 2016 --  On September 27, 2016, we were in Virginia state court for our challenge of the Possum Point wastewater permit, explaining why the state’s permit allowing Dominion to dump about 200 million gallons of polluted coal ash wastewater into the Potomac River without proper treatment violates federal law and threatens valuable fish habitat. Quantico Creek, a popular spot for recreational and commercial fishing, has suffered the brunt of Dominion’s coal ash pollution for decades. Our attorney from Southern Environmental Law Center did an outstanding job, distilling our case down to this simple fact: Virginia regulators are required by law to set the strictest possible pollution limits to protect our shared waterways. And they failed, miserably. Stay tuned for the judge’s decision in the next few months.

Listen to Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks on WERA 96.7 FM talk about our work as Riverkeepers to ensure swimmable, drinkable and fishable waters and about the Possum Point coal ash case.

October 2016 - Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks participated in a civil disobedience protest at Governor McAuliffe's mansion on October 5. Watch a video about why Dean got arrested. Read press statement.

"I’m getting arrested today because the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, under Governor McAuliffe, has failed to protect public health when it comes to the proper disposal of millions of tons of toxic coal ash in the state. There are drinking wells, next to coal ash sites in Virginia right now, that are confirmed to be contaminated and yet the state still won’t tell citizens whether the wells are safe to drink or not. In the meantime, the Governor has the full power, on his own, to order DEQ to follow the much stronger and safer coal ash standards of North and South Carolina and Georgia. He should do that today." - Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks

December 2016 - Dominion indicates it will run water lines to homes around Possum Point. We this is an acknowledgment by Dominion that the coal ash ponds at Possum Point have been contaminating groundwater, which then contaminates drinking water wells. Why would Dominion now undertake this expense? We believe that Possum Point’s coal ash ponds caused this contamination, and only effective solution for permanently solving the problem is the excavation and removal of all of the site’s ash to dry, lined storage.

Aerial photo of Pond D at Possum Point December 2016 by Alan Lehman, SRK Project Manager.

Aerial photo of Pond D at Possum Point December 2016 by Alan Lehman, SRK Project Manager.

PRKN raised the alarm since Dominion paused the treatment of the coal ash waste water, and since Dominion has steadily consolidated the bulk of the ash and wastewater from its five ponds into one, known as “pond D,” Naujoks worries that any pause in releasing water from that pond could seriously strain its structural integrity. He says aerial photographs of the pond from last month show that it’s “never been more full to capacity in its entire lifespan than it is right now,” and he’s hoping to arrange another flyover this week to further study the pond condition.

January 2017 - Virginia Department of the Environment issued the solid waste permit for Dominion that would allow them to cap-in-place. The public comment period is open until March 10 and there is a public hearing on February 16th. Here is our fact sheet on why Dominion must safely dispose of its toxic coal ash at Possum Point. 

A recent poll revealed strong support for local involvement, with 80% of respondents saying the Prince William Board of Supervisors should use its authority to mandate Dominion consider alternative solutions other than capping the coal ash and leaving it in place before they get approval for a permit to store the coal ash. The Board of Supervisors meet on February 14th at 2pm and 7:30pm and proponents of safe disposal of coal ash are expected to attend. Read our press statement on the poll results.

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