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Lawsuit Over Maryland Coal Ash Dump

Nov 25, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Coal ash waste issues have been making headlines ever since the massive and catastrophic Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spill last December. The spill—the largest of its kind—dumped an incomprehensible 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal sludge and associated toxins into Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding the TVA’s Kingston plant.

The accident highlighted issues with contaminants in coal ash. For instance, we previously wrote that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report stated that some “potentially toxic pollutants,” such as mercury and arsenic, found in coal ash, could present serious health and environmental problems.

Now, Environment News Service (ENS) is writing that issues surrounding toxins released from an unlined coal ash waste dump in Washington, DC have prompted action from four environmental groups. The groups gave formal notice that they plan on suing Mirant MD Ash Management, LLC and Mirant Mid-Atlantic, LLC Corporation of Atlanta, Georgia for violations of the Clean Water Act in Maryland, said ENS. The four groups—Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Patuxent Riverkeeper—allege Mirant companies neglected to follow discharge permit mandates at the Brandywine Coal Combustion Waste Landfill, said ENS.

The groups referred to a March 2009 EPA report in which it stated that coal combustion waste disposal in “unlined landfills and surface impoundments is hazardous to human health” said ENS. According to the groups, the waste allows “unacceptably high risks of cancer and diseases of the heart, lung, liver, stomach, and other organs,” said ENS.

According to ENS, Mirant's coal-fired Chalk Point Power Plant, Maryland’s largest power authority, sends its fly and bottom ash to the Brandywine Coal Combustion Waste Landfill. The groups’ concern is with landfill operations, claiming that Mirant companies are illegally dumping toxins into the Mataponi Creek and tributaries from so-called outfalls as well as leaks at the landfill’s “disposal cells,” said ENS. Mataponi Creek flows through the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, the only sanctuary run by that state’s Department of Natural Resources and the winter home for thousands of Canadian geese and home to a number of other wildlife species including red fox, groundhogs, white-tailed deer, osprey, heron, hummingbirds, and songbirds, said ENS.

Earlier this year we wrote about how information pointing to “significantly higher cancer risks” for those living near coal-fired power plant ash dumps was allegedly covered up by the recent Bush Administration, citing a report by Also, numerous studies concluded that coal dumps leach dangerous toxins into the environment that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health outcomes in water and wildlife populations, including frightening guarantees of developing cancer from drinking contaminated water and suffering damage to the liver, kidney, lungs and other organs from toxic metal exposure, such as cadmium, cobalt, lead, and other pollutants far above levels considered safe,” said Environmental Integrity, previously.

The group noted that the danger to wildlife and ecosystems is “off the charts, with one contaminant—boron—expected to leach into the environment at levels two thousand times thresholds generally considered to be safe.” The toxin has killed aquatic wildlife, contaminated wells, and adversely affected wildlife, according to an earlier Tennessean piece, with the causes linked to coal ash wastewater. The waste has been both accidentally and “routinely” released as a result of coal-fired plant daily operations, the Tennessean noted. “Many of the common pollutants found in coal combustion wastewater (e.g., selenium, mercury, and arsenic) are known to cause environmental harm and can potentially represent a human health risk,” said the report, quoted the Tennessean.

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