Environment & Energy
2:23 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

'Ashtracker' Lets Public See Waste Levels In Waterways Near Coal-Fired Power Plants

A new website allows the public to access data on what contaminates are found in water storage areas near coal ash dumps from power plants. The “Ashtracker” website includes information for sites from Pennsylvania to as far west as Montana and as far south as Florida.

“The data on the website comes from Pennsylvania and other state files,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “We submit public information act requests. We get the groundwater monitoring reports, which various power plants are required to submit to the state, sometimes twice a year, sometimes every three months.”

One of the Pennsylvania sites is the Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station, which disposed of ash waste in a landfill near Little Whitely Creek. Ashtracker shows that 17 percent of the water samples from monitoring wells around the landfill exceeded federal health standards in 2011 and 2012. That plant has been closed, but Schaeffer said that doesn’t mean much for any pollution already present.

“These facilities can put half a million tons a year of coal ash into landfills or ponds, and that waste isn’t going away,” he said. “The plant may be closed, but the waste is going to sit there and the leakage from those sites will continue, and it will happen for a long time.”

Schaeffer said the information on ground contaminates is meant to simply notify the public, though he added there is a greater effort at play.

“Our goal here is to inspire people to act and to put some pressure on state agencies and companies to do something about the problem, not just watch it unfold,” said Schaeffer.

FirstEnergy, which operates Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station and the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant, closed Hatfield’s Ferry because retrofitting it to meet federal regulations was too costly. The Bruce Mansfield Plant is currently undergoing the process of closing Little Blue Run, which has been the dump site for waste for years. First Energy’s plan is to stop dumping waste at the site by 2016; after that, the company will cap the site and work to clean up any contamination. So far, the aforementioned facilities are the only Pennsylvania facilities on Ashtracker.

“We plan to add several more,” Schaeffer said, “but there are some gaps in the monitoring data in Pennsylvania, and we only want to put up site information where we feel like we have enough information to be useful. We don’t want to put up a lot of blanks that will just end up confusing people.”

Some contaminates found in groundwater samples near coal ash dump sites include arsenic and lead. Currently, the Ashtracker database contains 39,080 groundwater quality readings and 1,010 monitoring wells near 30 as waste sites nationally.