Person County officials not pleased with coal ash in landfillBY JOHN R. CRANE
(434) 791-7987 | Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 7:09 pm
Officials in Person County, North Carolina, say they are not happy that 2,500 tons of coal ash that accumulated at Schoolfield Dam will be transported to a double-lined landfill in their county.
Members of the Person County Board of Commissioners said they will consider passing a resolution next week calling for the coal ash to be stored on Duke Energy’s property.
They’re concerned about the hazards it could pose to the environment — including possible contamination of groundwater if a leak were to occur.
“I’m not pleased at all,” Commissioner Frances Blalock said Tuesday of Duke’s plans to move the toxic sludge to the privately-owned Upper Piedmont landfill in Person County.
“It’s their problem and they’re going to be transferring the liability to us,” Blalock said.
On Feb. 2, a drainpipe under a coal ash pond at Duke’s old Dan River Steam Station in Eden, North Carolina, failed, spilling up to 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River. The incident left about 75 miles of the river bottom coated with coal ash.
Last month, Knoxville, Tennessee-based Phillips and Jordan, a contractor for Duke Energy, began the project to clean up the 2,500-ton coal ash deposit at Schoolfield Dam. The first full day of dredging began Monday, with the staging area at Abreu-Grogan Park on Memorial Drive. Duke officials said the project should be complete by late June, with the park re-opened to the public in July.
Duke Spokesman Jeff Brooks said Tuesday that coal ash is considered a non-hazardous material by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and can be stored in lined landfills under EPA guidelines.
“There’s monitoring that goes on around the landfill to ensure that it operates safely,” Brooks said.
Coal ash is consistent with other types of material permitted at the landfill, Brooks said.
The landfill has operated since 1997 and is allowed to handle 240,900 tons of solid waste per year, according to its contract with Person County, Blalock said. Since the EPA doesn’t consider coal ash hazardous, the county cannot prevent Upper Piedmont from taking in the material, Blalock said.
The board’s chairman objects to the idea of bringing coal ash to Upper Piedmont.
“We still don’t think it’s something that should be put in our landfill,” said Board Chairman Jimmy Clayton.
A March report from the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League found that storing coal ash in lined landfills is environmentally dangerous and a threat to public health. All landfills leak — even those without coal ash, according to the report.
Coal ash contains toxic elements including arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury, and heavy metals will not “detoxify” in a landfill, the report found.
The defense league’s report recommends storing the ash in proven saltstone technology — cylindrical, concrete tanks that would isolate toxins form the soil, air and water — on Duke’s property.
In Duke’s selection of Upper Piedmont, the company evaluated the site’s permit and had a number of criteria landfills had to meet as Duke chose a site, Brooks said.
“We wanted to remove the material from the Dan River as quickly and as safely as possible,” Brooks said.
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, Alabama. The landfill received coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s 2008 Kingston coal ash spill in Roane County, Tennessee.
Lou Zeller, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League’s executive director, said he wants to avoid a similar situation in Person County. Zeller said he spoke to members of the commission and Roxboro [North Carolina] City Council.
“We don’t want another public health disaster which is ongoing in Perry County, Alabama,” Zeller said. “We’re trying to head that off.”
One problem is a rule that would classify coal ash as hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tied up by administrative hurdles and legal blockage from energy companies, Zeller said.
“My biggest concern is they’re [Duke] filling up space [at the landfill] with coal ash instead of municipal ]waste],” he added. “Those liners can get punctured. The groundwater would be my biggest concern.”
Brooks said Duke hopes to continue to have a dialogue with county officials and provide updates to them as the company removes coal ash from the Dan River.