Environmental Groups Warn of Coal Ash Health Risk at Conservation Area

Nov 15, 2018


Power lines tower over a coal ash pond from an abandoned coal fired power plant in Chesapeake, Va.
Credit Steve Helber / AP


It could cost billions to recycle toxic coal ash currently sitting in lagoons across Virginia. That’s according to a report Dominion Energy gave to lawmakers this week. At the same time, two environmental groups now say coal ash ponds in Chesterfield could pose a risk to human health.


The Dutch Gap Conservation Area is an 800 acre park that butts up against a Dominion power plant in Chesterfield and two coal ash lagoons. Heavy metals from the lagoons have made their way into the water and soil in the park, says the James River Association’s Jamie Brunkow.

“There’s clear evidence at this point that this pollution is not just on the power plant property it is seeping into the natural area and the places where people recreate,” says Brunkow.

A new analysis of data published this week by the Southern Environmental Law Center and the James River Association concludes the pollution could pose a health risk to hikers, fishermen, and boaters.

“So it’s thinking about the dermal, or skin contact with mud, that may be contaminated with arsenic,” Brunkow explains. “Or an accidental gulp of water if you’re getting in and out of your boat.”

The EPA has long acknowledged coal ash ponds pose a risk. But Dominion’s Rob Richardson says the company manages that risk and that this most recent report is fear mongering.

Dominion does regular testing of the groundwater below the ponds, and publishes that information on its website.

“The ponds and dams are inspected yearly by dam safety engineers, and all of our ponds, all of our facilities, are safe,” Richardson says.

The ponds will sit there until lawmakers decide how to direct Dominion to permanently close them. They’re considering capping the ash in place, hauling it away to a lined landfill, or recycling it.

 This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.