Environmental group against putting coal ash in landfillsBY JOHN R. CRANE
(434) 791-7987 | Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2014 12:00 am
An environmental group opposes Duke Energy’s plans to move wet coal ash — including that from its old Dan River Steam Station — from its retired plants into lined, off-site landfills.
The station in Eden, N.C., is the site where a pipe under a coal ash pond broke on Feb. 2 and spilled up to 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River, coating its river bottom for 70 miles.
In a report released Monday titled “Coal Ash Disposition: The Alternative for North Carolina,” the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said storing coal ash in lined landfills poses a danger to the environment and public health. The ash should be kept in proven saltsone technology —
cylindrical, concrete tanks that would isolate toxins from the soil, air and water, the report states.
The saltsone process was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, according to the report.
The report was to be delivered to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Environmental groups were also planning to meet with members of the legislature regarding the report.
Duke is scheduled Tuesday to begin removing 2,310 cubic yards of coal ash — from the Feb. 2 spill — from near the Schoolfield Dam on Memorial Drive. Abreu-Grogan Park will be closed during removal and Duke officials expect the work to end in early July.
Messages left for Duke Energy media representatives were not returned Friday.
Fly ash is dry residue from the burning of coal (to make electricity) captured by pollution-control devices. Bottom ash collects in the bottom of the boiler during the coal-burning process.
Both types of coal ash contain toxic elements including arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury. Also, radioactive strontium and uranium remain after the burning process and are concentrated in the ash, said Lou Zeller, the league’s executive director.
All landfills — even those without coal ash — leak, according to the report, which cited the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Federal Register. Double-lined landfills — with a layer each of clay and plastic — are believed to provide protection from groundwater contamination, the report states.
“However, the fatal flaw of solid waste landfills is that they are subject to natural forces which make leakage and contamination inevitable,” the report states.
“Impartial experts agree that liner failure is inevitable, regardless of the liner type. That all liners will eventually fail is not in dispute. The only question is: How long will it take?”
Also, heavy metals will not “detoxify” in a landfill, groundwater monitoring regimens likely miss finger-plumes of leakage (off-site well pollution may be the first indication of failure), post-closure care and remediation funding would be required indefinitely, and long-term financial responsibility would be shifted to county, public and local residents, the report found.
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good told North Carolina’s utilities commission and legislators in a letter that the company will relocate wet coal ash to lined landfills from shuttered plants on the Dan and Catawba Rivers, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Therese Vick, Raleigh, N.C.,-based community organizer for BREDL, called on the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to forbid Duke from using off-site landfills to store coal ash.
“The [department] must be clear in stating that they will not allow Duke Energy to send coal ash to off-site landfills,” Vick said in a news release from BREDL.
Jamie Kritzer, public information officer with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said officials are examining technologies for coal ash disposal and storage locations.
“The [department], the EPA and Duke Energy are looking closely at all of the available technologies for coal ash disposal and the location of where the ash will be stored in the future,” Kritzer said in a statement. “The EPA and DENR have recognized that the complex technical issues associated with coal ash necessitate a site-specific approach in the final resolution of this long-standing problem.”
Re-use of coal ash for road-building and cement block construction “have been tried and the results are unsatisfactory,” the report states.
“That the ash becomes immobilized is a common but false claim,” the report found. “Research indicates that contaminants in the ash, heavy metals in particular, are leached from roadways and cement blocks made with ash, endangering the environment and public health.”
The report also cites a civil rights lawsuit filed by Earth Justice involving the Arrowhead Landfill in a predominantly African-American community in Perry County, Ala. The landfill received coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s 2008 Kingston coal ash spill in Roane County, Tenn.
Earth Justice attorneys are representing six Alabama residents in the civil rights complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the report. The act “prohibits recipients of federal funds, including state agencies, from taking actions or implementing policies that have unjustified disproportionate adverse effect on the basis of race. The complaint is against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for reissuing and modifying the landfill’s permit without proper and readily enforceable protections of public health,” according to the report, citing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit awaits adjudication and no hearing date has been set, according to the report.