- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

DUMFRIES, Va. (AP) - One year ago, Dan Marrow, 61, stopped drinking his tap water.

Months later, he stopped using it for everything else - from washing dishes to running the washing machine. When his wife needed to shower, he would stand by the bathtub and pour bottled water over her head.

The “yearlong nightmare” - as Marrow calls it - began on an ordinary day. He recalls watching a Dumfries town meeting from home as a man named Dean Naujoks of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network spoke about Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to permanently bury 4 million cubic yards of coal ash at its Possum Point power station adjacent to the Potomac River in Prince William County.

During the meeting, Naujoks said those living at Possum Point should be worried about the potential for groundwater contamination.

“Oh, my God! That is me,” Marrow said at that moment.

He dashed out to his car and drove straight to the meeting. When he introduced himself as a resident of Possum Point, Naujoks responded, “I’m sorry - this isn’t going to end good.”

And so it began.

For Marrow, the past year has been a whirlwind of sleepless nights researching toxic chemicals and coal ash, of doctor’s visits, water tests, and calls with Dominion and state and local officials. He worries that the health problems his family has been experiencing for years are linked to his well water.

Marrow’s story resonated with Bill Johnson-Miles, a Stafford resident who works on Marine Corps Base Quantico. Johnson-Miles appeared at a Stafford Board of Supervisors meeting last month to request they join the Prince William Board of Supervisors in officially urging the Department of Environmental Quality to reject Dominion’s solid waste permit.

Stafford needs to join our northern neighbor and oppose the solid waste permit,” he said.

Stafford Supervisor Laura Sellers said county officials are monitoring the situation, and she is arranging discussions and meetings with Dominion and Prince William officials over the next several weeks to learn more about the issue.

Several Prince William supervisors - particularly Chairman Corey Stewart - have been very vocal in their opposition of the plan. At a public hearing hosted by the DEQ on Feb. 16, Stewart urged Dominion to consider alternatives to its “cap in place” plan.

There is only so much a county can do. The Dillon Rule prevents localities from adopting regulations contrary to state law. So if the DEQ grants Dominion the solid waste permit, Prince William could not require the company to remove the ash, according to a memo from the county attorney.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity. It has been stored for decades in water-filled ponds. But in the wake of several major coal-ash spills, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules in 2015 requiring utilities to close retired coal ash ponds.

To meet the new EPA requirements, Dominion is working to close the ponds by treating and discharging the water and then burying the remaining coal ash with a protective seal in one of the five ponds at Possum Point, a plan that requires a solid waste permit from DEQ.

Dominion spokesman Rob Richardson said that no matter what a utility decides to do with coal ash - whether recycling, burying, or moving it - something has to be done with the water. Dominion is treating and testing more than 200 million gallons of water. The water is then released into Quantico Creek.

The levels of contaminants have remained below the required state permit levels, according to Richardson.

With the DEQ’s go-ahead, Dominion has already starting moving the coal ash. The utility needs the solid waste permit before it can finish the process and permanently seal the ash.

Richardson said this plan is the safest for the environment and has the least impact on residents of Possum Point. Dominion has 24 monitoring wells set up on its property to prevent groundwater contamination, and Richardson said the testing has gone well so far.

“Our test results do not indicate that the water is unsafe,” he said.

However, some residents and environmentalists are concerned. One issue that stands out to them is the clay liner at the bottom of the landfill that will contain all the ash. They are worried it is not adequate to prevent groundwater contamination, particularly 10 or 20 years down the road. The liner no longer meets EPA standards.

“This doesn’t mean the liner is not safe for the environment,” Richardson said. “Dominion is prepared - if there ever is a problem - to address it.”

Marrow said several water tests have revealed that his well contains a toxic cocktail of chemicals and heavy metals - lead, arsenic, aluminum, chromium, and strontium, to name a few. He was urged to stop drinking the water.

“That’s when I knew we had a real problem,” he said. “Each month is like a lifetime trying to figure out how to deal with all this stuff. We are becoming more scared the more we learn.”

Marrow said he is not alone, that several of his neighbors are also experiencing high levels of contaminants in their water.

Marrow eventually had no choice but to pay the hefty $40,000 price tag to connect his home to public water. Later, in December, Dominion offered to pay for about 35 Possum Point homeowners to switch to the public water system. Marrow saw this as an admission of guilt.

“You poisoned us all,” he told Dominion.

Richardson said the company made the offer to give the residents “peace of mind,” and that no official body has said that the coal ash pond is what contaminated the water.

One alternative to Dominion’s plan is recycling the coal ash to make concrete. Naujoks said more than 75 million tons of coal ash has been cleaned up and recycled in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. He hopes Virginia will follow suit.

“Why aren’t these alternatives being explored here?” he questioned. “Why is DEQ asleep at the switch?”

Richardson said Dominion has explored alternatives, and already recycles coal ash at several of its plants. For example, the utility trucks ash from its Chesterfield power station to a facility that uses the ash to make cinder blocks. Additionally, ash from a West Virginia power station is recycled for concrete.

Their decision not to pursue this option at Possum Point is two-fold, Richardson explained. First, Possum Point Road is narrow and winding. Hundreds of trucks would have to make daily trips down the road to remove the ash, which could disrupt the lives of the residents.

Second, the ash at Possum Point is “old ash,” which is not as suitable for recycling as the “new ash” at Chesterfield. Even if Dominion chose to recycle the ash, Richardson said it would take 15 to 20 years to do so, which is expensive and would require an open ash pond during that entire time.

“When we talk with them about moving the ash, the first question our neighbors always ask is about truck traffic,” he said. “When we present the option of hundreds of trucks traveling down that road every day for next 15 years, many residents say they don’t want that.”

The General Assembly recently passed a bill introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, who represents eastern parts of Prince William and Stafford, to prevent Dominion’s coal ash ponds from polluting rivers and groundwater. The House, however, removed a key provision that would have required Dominion to complete an environmental assessment on a coal ash pond before getting a state permit to close it.

Although the bill - as it now stands - doesn’t address all concerns, Naujoks said the effort does show the widespread support for alternatives.

“Even state lawmakers - Republican and Democrat alike - are demanding that these alternatives be explored,” he said.

___

Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/

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