Dominion Coal Ash Pits Leaking Toxins into Public Areas

September 14, 2016 · 2 minute read

High levels of arsenic, lead and other toxins associated with coal ash have been found in water and sediment samples from a popular recreation area surrounding the Chesterfield Power Station. The results came from recent testing by the James River Association and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The Chesterfield coal ash ponds, ringed with walking trails, are in the middle of areas used for hiking, bicycling, boating and fishing. Thousands of visitors a year explore the Dutch Gap Conservation Area and Henricus Historical Park. Both facilities border the coal ash pits.

Results from recent water testing around Dominion Power's Chesterfield plant show elevated levels of coal ash pollutants. Credit: Mike Mather/SELC

Results from recent water testing around Dominion Power’s Chesterfield plant show elevated levels of coal ash pollutants. Credit: Mike Mather/SELC

In an email sent earlier this month to state officials, SELC and the James River Association wrote, “The results reveal significant pollution in the surface waters surrounding the plant – waters which are heavily used for recreation.”

The email went to Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor and Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward. The latest test results from water next to the coal ash pits showed high concentrations of zinc, nickel, copper and lead which is evidence that coal ash toxins are leaking into the water. A sediment sample taken from a cove located between the two Chesterfield ash ponds showed “highly elevated arsenic.”

The test results come as the State Water Control Board will be asked on Sept. 22 to approve a water discharge permit that would authorize Dominion to drain water from some of Chesterfield’s coal ash ponds. That’s in preparation for Dominion Virginia Power’s eventual plan to bury the ash on the banks of the James River.

“The recent test results also confirm the Chesterfield coal ash pits and ponds are leaking toxins, but what is most troubling is that the pollution is seeping into water that draws fishermen and families,” said Brad McLane, an SELC attorney. “And under Dominion’s plan to bury this coal ash right where it sits, on the banks of the James River, this pollution could continue forever.”

The area is believed to contain at least 20 million tons of toxic coal ash, but actual volume of ash is not known.

“These test results are clearly a concern to us, but should also be worrisome to everyone who hikes the trails, canoes in the lake, or fishes from the bank,” said Jamie Brunkow, Lower James Riverkeeper for the James River Association. “Toxins are literally leaking out of the ash ponds and into areas that the county considers a top recreational draw.”

SELC and JRA are urging the water-control board to require the DEQ to revise the water pollution permit to impose stronger protections of the James River before DEQ issues the permit to Dominion. SELC and JRA are also opposing Dominion’s plans to bury the coal ash at the site, and instead are advocating for a better solution that will stop the leaching of pollution into the James River.