PRKN & City of Alexandria Settle Litigation

In A Victory For The Potomac River, Alexandria Agrees to Clean Up Coal Tar Pollution, Remediate Decades Old Damage, And Fund Mussel Restoration

Washington, D.C.November 1 – Decades of continuing pollution from coal tar residue seeping into the Potomac River near Alexandra’s Founders Park will be stopped and remediated as a result of an agreement, filed in federal court today, to settle litigation brought by Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) against the City of Alexandria, PRKN President Nancy Stoner announced today.

Said Stoner, “We commend the city for agreeing to take the necessary corrective action to halt and clean up this pollution, which has been harming the Potomac River for decades. This is a win for the Potomac River, the residents of Alexandria, and for everyone who relies on the river for drinking water and recreation.”

The settlement, defined in a proposed consent decree filed jointly by the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and the City of Alexandria, details commitments by the City to remediate coal tar contamination at the site of the former Alexandria Town Gas company, a city-owned plant on the waterfront near Founders Park that manufactured gas from coal to serve residents and businesses. Coal tar, creosote and other wastes from the former plant have leaked into the Potomac River for decades through a storm sewer at the site. The proposed consent decree requires the City to install additional recovery wells to enhance the removal of coal tar residues at the site of the former plant; to install a cured-in-place liner in the storm sewer running through the site to prevent further intrusion of coal tar residues into the pipe; and to remediate contaminated sediments in the river near the outfall of the storm sewer, including under an existing pier.  The City is also required  to provide $300,000 to fund a mussel restoration project on the Potomac shoreline and to pay other costs incurred by the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, including future costs for monitoring compliance. 

Dean Naujoks, Potomac Riverkeeper, who discovered the contamination seven years ago and informed Alexandria officials of the pollution at that time, said “This took much effort, including the filing of the lawsuit, to reach this conclusion, but I am happy with the result. The City has stepped up to meet its obligations, and the river’s health will benefit from the cleanup and the mussel restoration project. We are committed to working with Alexandria going forward to ensure that this settlement fully protects the river.”

In May 2022, PRKN filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Alexandria for its continued discharges of toxic coal tar waste into the Potomac River in violation of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.  The lawsuit detailed Potomac Riverkeeper’s investigation which revealed that the City had been illegally discharging coal tar and creosote wastes into the Potomac River on a continuous basis since at least 1975.  Many of these pollutants are classified as probable human carcinogens and pose a potential danger to marine and aquatic organisms and the animals that feed on them.

Naujoks continued, “Since at least 1975, these wastes have migrated from the Alexandria Town Gas Company site to the storm sewer pipe and have been discharged into the Potomac River, where they have contaminated the surface water and sediments.  The location is particularly troubling because the storm sewer outfall lies adjacent to Founders Park, a recreational area used by many Alexandria residents, and the River is frequently used for kayaking, paddling, and recreational fishing by the general public. The City’s effort to eliminate these discharges over many years had failed to stop the ongoing leak of coal tar residues.  We believe the expanded remediation program called for by the settlement agreement will finally control this persistent contamination.” 

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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. PRKN’s mission is to protect the right to clean water for all communities and all those who live in and rely upon the Potomac and Shenandoah watersheds by stopping pollution, making drinking water safe,  protecting healthy river habitats, and enhancing use and enjoyment for all. For more information, visit the PRKN website.