The coal ash storage pond at the Muskingum River power plant north of Waterford is leaking toxic substances that could threaten drinking water wells in that area, according to a recent report from two environmental groups - the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project.
The local power facility, located on Sparling Road, is among three American Electric Power plants in Ohio that the "In Harm's Way" report says is allowing toxic materials like arsenic and mercury into groundwater above maximum contaminant levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The other two plants are AEP's Cardinal plant in Brilliant, and the Gavin power plant in Cheshire.
But AEP officials disagree with allegations in the report, and say the Muskingum plant's coal ash impoundment is in compliance with EPA standards. Ohio EPA spokeswoman Linda Oros said according to the supervisor of the agency's division of drinking water, there is no indication of toxic levels of substances above drinking water standards at any of the three facilities.
ART SMITH The Marietta Times
AEP’s Muskingum River plant on Sparling Road north of Waterford is one of three in Ohio cited in a report by the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project as potentially endangering drinking water supplies. There are 48 drinking water wells located within 1.5 miles of AEP’s Muskingum River plant.
The report was released last week, just as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to consider tighter regulation of coal ash storage facilities in the wake of the December 2008 spill from an ash pond at the Tennessee Valley Authority's plant in Kingston, Tenn., that flooded more than 300 acres and flowed into two nearby rivers.
Environmental organizations are pushing to have the EPA designate coal ash as hazardous waste, but that would have a huge impact on power companies like AEP.
"We support regulations for coal ash that will protect human health and the environment by closer monitoring of dam structures, but we don't think it's necessary to designate the coal ash as hazardous waste," said Melissa McHenry, spokeswoman for AEP.
What is it?
The Muskingum River plant's ash pond contains coal fly ash and bottom ash generated at the coal-fired power plant.
Bottom ash applications include its use as a:
Filler material for structural applications and embankments.
Aggregate in road bases, sub-bases, and pavement.
Feed stock in the production of cement.
Aggregate in lightweight concrete products.
Snow and ice traction control material.
Fly ash applications include its use as a:
Raw material in concrete products and grout.
Feed stock in the production of cement.
Fill material for structural applications and embankments.
Ingredient in waste stabilization and/or solidification.
Ingredient in soil modification and/or stabilization.
Component of flowable fill.
Component in road bases, sub-bases and pavement.
Mineral filler in asphalt.
Source: American Coal Ash Association
She said the designation would require the closing of all existing dams, and would significantly raise the cost of coal-fired power plants.
"It's going to cost electric power customers in Ohio and a lot of other states that depend on coal billions of dollars," McHenry said.
Eric Fitch, associate professor of environmental science and leadership at Marietta College, said it's difficult to understand why substances like arsenic, barium, mercury, cadmium and others are regulated as toxic substances individually, but not when mixed in with coal ash.
"There's a hit list of environmental toxins in coal ash, and functionally it's impossible to take them out," he said.
Randy Offenberger has lived on Sparling Road, below the Muskingum River plant, for 13 years. He said he's aware of the coal ash pond located on the hillside above his home, but it's not a major concern.
"We have a well we use for drinking water, and I have no problem with it at this time," he said.
Just north of the plant site, on Coryhill Road, Gail Peterson said he would be more worried about the impact a failure of the coal ash dam wall on people living in Waterford and Beverly, south of the plant.
"Coal ash has been stored there for years, but what can you do about it?" he asked.
"I would be concerned that a bust in the dam wall could flow down the hillside and into the Muskingum," he added, pointing to the Tennessee Valley Authority disaster in 2008.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources keeps tabs on the safety of the coal ash pond dams of all three AEP facilities named in the "In Harm's Way" report. An ODNR Division of Soil and Water Resources memorandum released Friday indicates there are "no seepage issues that are currently detrimental to the safety of these structures."
Like Offenberger, Peterson also relies on a well for drinking water. He said the 110-foot-deep well draws water from an aquifer that's at the same level as the Muskingum River.
"If contamination gets into my well, it's also in the Muskingum," he said. "So the people in Waterford and Beverly would also be in bad shape."
"In Harm's Way" reports that, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources data, there are 48 drinking water wells within 1.5 miles of the plant, and two of those are within a quarter mile of the local facility, but the report does not say any of those wells are contaminated.
Columbus Sierra Club spokesman Mattie Reitman said the owners of the wells were not contacted for the report.
"But all three of the AEP sites are located up high and the (coal ash storage impoundments) are unlined," he said, adding that private drinking water wells are in the line of any contamination leaking from those ponds.
"It's just a matter of time. There's a real problem that hazardous waste seepage will get into people's drinking water, and that's dangerous," Reitman said.
McHenry said the company questions some of the report's findings, pointing to one portion of the report that used data from a monitoring well that has been closed since 2008.
"But we check our monitoring wells regularly and report to the Ohio EPA," she said. "And right now we're in compliance with everything."