Sunday, April 30, 2023

Possum Point Update


Keep on the lookout for a notice and public hearing by DEQ for Dominion Energy to obtain a landfill permit for Possum Point, its coming down the road- Dominion Energy applied for the permit in the fourth quarter last year. Coal was used to power the Possum Point power plant from 1948-2003 when they switched to natural gas. There is a whole lot of coal ash in Prince William County at Possum Point-millions of tons of the stuff. It is all sitting on a peninsula where Quantico Creek meets the Potomac River in eastern Prince William County. 

In 2015 right after the release of the EPA rule for disposal of coal ash, Dominion Virginia Power announced that they intended to close all of the ash ponds at its Virginia power stations including those in Dumfries at Possum Point in general compliance with rules. That did not go smoothly. There was a desire to have a more stringent regulation in Virginia by many of the Public and environmental groups.

Last spring, Dominion Energy proposed to build and permit a double lined landfill at Possum Point to bury the millions of pounds of coal ash in a new onsite landfill. This proposal is both cheaper and faster than the other alternatives- recycling the coal ash into concrete or moving the coal ash to another landfill.  Virginians will ultimately pay for any solution through increased electric rates for the disposal of the coal ash.

The proposed landfill would replace an existing coal ash pond (Pond D) that was used to consolidate all the coal ash on site.  In accordance with the Prince William County Zoning Ordinance definitions, both the proposed landfill and the existing coal ash pond are considered debris landfills.  Last spring Dominion Energy submitted a request to the Prince William County Planning Office for a determination for the proposed solid waste (coal ash) landfill at the Possum Point. Prince William County found that the proposed landfill is a reconstruction/improvement of an existing debris landfill (coal ash pond) to dispose of and relocate the existing on-site materials. The use will remain within the existing facility property and relocation of materials will occur on-site and a public facility review was not required.

A solid waste permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will be required for the new landfill. The request to obtain the permit was made at the end of last year and will require a public hearing and notice process by DEQ.  Dominion must also continue to comply with its existing water discharge permit, which was previously issued by DEQ.

Supervisor Baily whose district this falls in continues to favor removal of the contamination at Possum Point. However, Prince William County does not have the authority to require that. County zoning and legal reviews 1986, 2000 and 2002 found that the coal ash pond was a “continuation of an existing use” and that a public facility review  regulate operations at the site was not required. Since the landfill would be onsite and is a reconstruction or improvement of an existing coal ash pond, the county cannot require a new public facilities review. The granting of the permissions for this facility was granted in 1948.

Moving waste from one site to another just creates another location for potential contamination from coal ash. The existing coal ash ponds have been open to the elements and taking on water for decades. Trace contaminants and metals (and potentially hexavalent chromium) in the coal ash have already leached into the groundwater, soils, Quantico Creek and Potomac. Creating a landfill on site would require continual monitoring and maintenance. This is probably best accomplished at an operating and regulated plant rather than at a remote cap and leave it location. Though Dominion is proposing a landfill with two liners, all physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by monitoring and maintaining the systems. I believe that recycling the coal ash would have been the best solution.

Possum Point is downstream from nearby drinking water supplies, but appears to have impacted some local residents wells, but that impact is unlikely to spread beyond what has already taken place over the decades and one hope when the source of the contamination is removed that over decades the local groundwater may improve. Supervisor Baily and the Riverkeepers appear to object to building a landfill on the existing industrial site and prefer moving the coal ash elsewhere. I believe they are wrong. Though I believe the coal ash should not leave Possum Point, I am concerned about the residual metals in the coal ash.

Chromium is a metallic element found in rocks (including coal), soils, plants, and animals and is known to be present at Possum Point. Cr(III) is relatively non-hazardous to humans and is in fact an essential nutrient. Chromium III in coal is not considered a serious health risk. However, during commercial coal combustion when coal is burned to generate steam for turbines that produce electricity, the trace contaminants are left behind. Ash is created from the incombustible inorganic components in coal. That ash can contain not only hexavalent chromium, but also arsenic, selenium, lead, copper, antimony, and thallium. These are the contaminants likely present in the coal ash, soils and groundwater at Possum Point.

EPA does not regulate hexavalent chromium at this time, and Dominion Energy has not tested for hexavalent chromium at Possum Point. The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for hexavalent chromium in California was lowered to 0.01 ppb in drinking water in 2014. Hexavalent chromium in drinking water is not regulated in Virginia, only total chromium, but may someday. I am concerned about protecting our groundwater and our surface water. I do not believe in hauling one environmental problem to another location to become a second environmental problem. Dominion Power has only tested the shallow aquifer up-gradient and down-gradient of Pond D. Groundwater impacts were observed. As Dominion Points out no impact to human health or the environment was found, but it was not looked for, either.

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