Investigation Reveals Illegal Activity At Morgantown Coal Plant on the Potomac River

Washington, D.C.September 26 – Photographs taken during an aerial patrol by Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) identified illegal handling and storage of toxic coal ash at GenOn’s Morgantown coal-fired power plant, leading to an investigation by the  Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) that found multiple violations of the plant’s Clean Water Act discharge permit and state law.

“Aerial photos taken on September 12 demonstrated that coal ash was being moved from a storage silo to a location on the property described by MDE as a pirate landfill. Pirate landfills are legacy sites on the property and redeposition of the ash is not permitted without prior notice to MDE,” said Dean Naujoks, Potomac Riverkeeper. “During a flyover two years ago, we caught the Morgantown plant discharging highly discolored wastewater effluent from its holding ponds to the Potomac River which was likely untreated and toxic.  We have continued to monitor this facility for unusual and suspicious activity,” he continued.

In response to Potomac Riverkeeper’s tip, MDE sent inspectors to the site on September 18.  The agency’s Inspection Report found violations of the permit and possible violations of a formal consent order with the state to address groundwater contamination and remediation.  The violations include failure to minimize groundwater contamination and failure to notify MDE of the redeposition.

Today, Potomac Riverkeeper Network also sent a letter to Maryland Department of Environment to ask it to collect water and sediment samples at site locations to determine whether GenOn has been using public water ways for coal ash waste disposal.

Potomac Riverkeeper Network is concerned improper storage and disposal of coal ash as well as “dredged solids from coal yard storm water pond” identified in the state report have been leaching into a stream running through the plant and ultimately into the Potomac River.  According to the MDE report the state inspector “observed red colored water in the perineal [sic] stream adjacent to the railroad tracks.”  Photographs taken by Potomac Riverkeeper Network show what appears to be toxic seeps, red leachate and sheens in the stream MDE identified as having red colored water.

“MDE’s report requires GenOn, the plant operator, to take a series of immediate steps to come back into compliance with the permit but it is clear GenOn will need to do much more to remediate the damage the company has caused to surrounding water ways.  We’ll continue to monitor these developments to assure the citizens of Charles County and all those residents downriver that this illegal activity will cease and the pollution impacts from contaminated ground water have been addressed. GenOn has no right to use the Potomac River as its private waste dump,” concluded Naujoks.

Earlier this year, Maryland Circuit Courts ruled against GenOn’s efforts to roll back more protective limits on discharges of coal plant wastewater that contain arsenic, mercury and selenium from Morgantown and two other GenOn coal plants in Maryland, including the Dickerson plant on the Potomac.  The stronger limits were included in the renewed Clean Water Act discharge permits issued by MDE in 2018. Potomac Riverkeeper Network and other organizations urged the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to include stronger effluent limits in the new permits.

Download the press release.  Final Morgantown release

About Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Potomac Riverkeeper Network is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization with three regional Waterkeeper branches: Potomac Riverkeeper, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper, and Shenandoah Riverkeeper. Our mission is to protect the public’s right to clean water in our rivers and streams. We stop pollution to promote safe drinking water, protect healthy habitats, and enhance public use and enjoyment of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.