Background on Dr. Tyler Frankel’s Quantico Creek Study

Pursuant to state and federal law and regulations, Dominion is conducting post-closure monitoring of the groundwater on the site, to track levels of coal ash related metals that have leached out of the ponds into the environment. Dominion’s monitoring shows that metals from coal ash such as arsenic, boron, cobalt and radium 226 have all been detected at levels that exceed groundwater quality standards set by the Commonwealth of Virginia.[1] Dominion has reported exceedances of state and federal groundwater protection standards at all five of the pond sites in 2022, and many exceedances in the past three years. Given the proximity of the groundwater to Quantico Creek and the Potomac River, this new data demonstrates contamination is reaching both waterways. Dominion also acknowledged at least six families on Cherry Hill Road are receiving weekly supplies of bottled water due to drinking well contamination from coal ash. 

Despite this trend, Dominion has so far failed to develop a corrective action plan to address the contamination, beyond relying on “natural recovery,” a euphemism for merely waiting to see if the levels of pollution diminish naturally over time.  Based on Dominion’s own groundwater monitoring reports, contamination at this site is increasing, not decreasing, despite Dominion having “closed” all the ponds except coal ash pond D.

The remediation and disposal of coal ash waste at Possum Point is also governed by legislation passed in Virginia in 2019, which requires Dominion to safely dispose of, or recycle, approximately 28 million tons of coal ash at four of its power plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Virginia, including Possum Point.[2] The legislation championed by Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Southern Environmental Law Center, and others, gives Dominion the flexibility to recycle the ash, dispose of it offsite or dispose of it onsite in a lined landfill. Early last year, Dominion announced that it would apply for permits to construct a new lined landfill at Possum Point to hold the toxic ash that is currently in Pond D.[3]  However, this new landfill would be built at least partially on the same footprint as the defunct Pond E, where coal ash has contaminated the groundwater under the site. Dominion appears intent on moving forward with its plan to build a new coal ash landfill on the site adjacent to the Potomac Shores community, while failing to address legacy contamination from its unlined ponds which continues to pollute the site and the Potomac River. Unfortunately, Dominion’s track record of complying with environmental safeguards at Possum Point is far from stellar.  In March 2020, Dominion agreed to pay a $1.4 million fine for multiple violations of federal and state law, stemming from its illegal draining and dumping of 27.5 million gallons of polluted coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River.[4]

A brief analysis of Dominion’s groundwater monitoring reports prepared by AEMS Consulting for Potomac Riverkeeper Network shows that Dominion’s most recent reports completely fail to assess the impact that construction of a new landfill will have on the contamination onsite or on any future efforts to clean up the groundwater pollution. Dominion has also failed to develop any clear timeline for proposing corrective actions, as required by law, that must be implemented to address the groundwater standard exceedances. 

The 2019 legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly and state and federal regulations governing coal ash disposal require Dominion to safely manage and dispose of coal ash in a timely manner.  In addition, a separate legal settlement agreement entered into by Dominion Energy and Prince William County required Dominion to install a water treatment system to treat wastewater pumped from a nearby storage pond during the planned dewatering of the pond.  This requirement was also reflected in a 2016 VPDES permit modification for the facility.  Potomac Riverkeeper Network has asked Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to assess whether Dominion can use this treatment system to also treat contaminated groundwater from the site, either before or after it begins draining the water from the storage pond. 

Professor Frankel is Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, VA. Read the published study here.


[1] Dominion’s monitoring reports can be found here, https://www.dominionenergy.com/projects-and-facilities/electric-projects/coal-ash/ccr-rule-compliance-data-and-information

[2] SB1355 text can be found here, https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?191+ful+CHAP0651+pdf

[3] https://www.bayjournal.com/news/energy/dominion-plans-coal-ash-landfill-near-potomac-river/article_789130b8-9101-11ec-95f2-fff174674c5a.html 

[4] See https://www.insidenova.com/news/prince_william/dominion-to-pay-1-4m-over-alleged-coal-ash-violations/article_493e0fec-657b-11ea-8577-3b376a7b35ed.html

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