What are the chances that environmental justice issues from Virginia and West Virginia’s coal regions would end up in the well water of Chesapeake residents? Could it be that was only a matter of time? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is yes. An editorial in today’s Virginian Pilot makes the point that Dominion Power’s credibility is seeping down the preverbal drain as fast as the heavy metals that seeped into the well water of Chesapeake residents around the golf course that was built on top of fly ash. What is fly ash? Fly ash is coal-combustion waste product, or what is left over after Coal Fired power plants burn the coal to provide electricity to Virginia residents. How did fly ash end up under a golf course in my home town of Chesapeake? That’s the money question.
It is very expensive to safely dispose of the coal by-product. As a cost saving measure, fly ash is commonly used in a wide range of construction projects, from bricks and concrete blocks to structural fill. This is what the fly ash was used for at the Battlefield Golf Course, to create hills and hazards as part of the course. The fly ash contains heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese, and barium. As fate would have it, when Mountain Top Removal occurs in the coal regions of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and other coal states, these same heavy metals end up in the rivers, streams, and drinking water of residence in these areas. These heavy metals have been directly linked to respiratory illnesses, various forms of cancer, not to mention developmental issues as well as mental and physical birth defects.
On December 22, 2008, an earthen retaining wall that holds coal ash by-product gave way and spilled slurry into the Emory River in eastern Tennessee. A report by the Tennessee Valley Authority on the spill showed that the slurry contained arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese, and barium. This is the same stuff that showed up in the well water of Chesapeake residence around the golf course and is now in the Emory River and surrounding water tables where thousands of people get their drinking water. These environmental justice issues have been affecting western Virginians for years, but since this has not happened in the back yards of people in the eastern part of Virginia, why should they care? It has happened and people around the Battlefield Golf Course care a great deal. So, why wasn’t there a study done to determine the likelihood of ground and well water contamination from the use of fly ash? Turns out Dominion Power did a study back in 2001 and didn’t like the results, so they did another one that was more favorable to disposing of their coal waste, thus convincing the Chesapeake City Council to approve the golf course construction and enabling them to move forward.
Dominion Power has some explaining to do, but now has a credibility problem. So much for being a good corporate citizen. This begs the question, if there are so many problems with storage and disposal of coal waste, then how are we suppose to deal with these same issues but with the possibility of open pit uranium mining in Pittsylvania County where the water flows into Lake Gaston which is the source of drinking water for Virginia Beach and several other localities in Southside Hampton Roads? I guess we will have to wait for this independent study to be completed before we can have those discussions.