EPA Acknowledges Fly Ash Contamination to Water
Washington PA Observer Reporter
9 August 2013
By Tara Kinsell, Staff Writer
Among 18 new pollution sites confirmed this week by the
Environmental Protection Agency to have contaminated ground or
surface water with fly ash waste is Hatfield’s Ferry Power Plant
in Monongahela Township, Greene County. Its parent company, First
Energy, announced the plant is to be closed by Oct. 9.
Ironically, a scrubber system installed at the plant over the last
decade to decrease toxic air emissions, has directly contributed
to the water issues. The scrubber traps the particles, or fly ash,
creating a sludge that must be treated and disposed of properly.
In 2009, the EPA announced it would revise existing wastewater
discharge regulations for coal-fired power plants. However, any
revisions that may have been made have not been enforced to date.
“Simply put, more delays on federal protections from coal ash mean
more pollution and contamination of drinking water,” said Lisa
Evans, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “The evidence
is overwhelming that coal ash contaminates our waters. Delays by
the White House and the EPA to finalize federal regulations are
all the more insulting when so many communities are being exposed
to toxic chemicals.”
Among the toxic chemicals in fly ash waste are mercury, arsenic,
selenium, chromium compounds, lead and vanadium. The Hatfield
plant has seen a significant increase in the pounds of waste for
each of these substances since the scrubbers were installed.
Arsenic went from 18,651 pounds in 2008 to 65,158 pounds in 2011.
Barium compounds jumped from 200,722 pounds to 755,776 pounds for
the same period. Chromium compounds, which include Hexavalent
Chromium, the substance made infamous when it became the subject
of the movie, “Erin Brockovich,” are known cancer-causing agents.
From 2008 to 2011, the pounds of this substance reported to the
EPA by Hatfield in its Toxic Releases Inventory jumped from 33,503
pounds to 111,204 pounds.
First Energy maintains it has operated in full compliance with
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regulations.
New, stricter rules, set for enforcement in 2014, are being blamed
by the company in part for the decision to close Hatfield and
Mitchell Power Station in Washington County.
Former EPA director of regulatory enforcement Eric Schaeffer is
currently the director of the Environmental Integrity Project.
During a phone-based news conference, Schaeffer said limits were
supposed to be set under the Clean Water Act 30 years ago to get
rid of these types of pollutants altogether or limit them as much
as possible. Instead, Schaeffer said, there has been a “see no
evil approach” among state governments that don’t require testing
for these toxicants and a Clean Water Act that simply hasn’t
“Several responsible companies have already shown the way. Several
dozen have put in treatment systems that eliminate or take out
most of this pollution,” Schaeffer said. “It’s EPA’s job not just
to protect the human health but to maintain a level playing field
so that companies that spend money to clean up are not held
hostage by dirty competitors who decide to skip making those
investments in cleaning up their discharges.”
In total, the EPA has identified 38 cases where the threat to
ground water or surface water currently exists. They have
acknowledged 95 more coal ash disposal sites that have the
potential to be added to that list. Last year alone, utilities
self-reported having contaminated groundwater or surface waters
with coal ash contaminants at 116 coal ash disposal units at 49
coal fired power plants, according to the EIP.
Other states with coal ash sites that have polluted ground or
surface water included in the EPA’s confirmation, include West
Virginia, New York, Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Nevada, Montana, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Texas.
Additional Pennsylvania plants include Orion Power Holding’s Fern
Valley landfill and First Energy’s Bruce Mansfield Power Station
in Shippingport, the largest in the state. The site in neighboring
West Virginia is the John Amos Power Plant operated by Appalachian
Power in Winfield, W.Va.
Schaeffer said there are multiple scenarios being presented as
enforcement options by the EPA. If the “more protective options”
are enforced, it would cut the toxic load by more than 50 percent
at the coal-fired plants, according to Schaeffer.
“I guess it is better late than never,” he said.