PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, VA- The Virginia Department of Health will offer well water users near Dominion Power’s Possum Point power plant additional testing for their wells despite finding no evidence of a threat to them, in the hopes of easing resident concerns about coal ash ponds nearby.
The Possum Point plant switched from coal to natural gas more than a decade ago, but still stores millions of gallons of coal ash in five ponds on the property. Testing in other states has linked coal ash ponds to higher levels of heavy metals in nearby water sources; adding another concern for residents in the Quantico Creek area who have closely watched Dominion’s effort to comply with new EPA rules by shutting down and capping their coal ash ponds.
“In North Carolina, 93 percent of the drinking water wells from one end of the state to another, within 1000 feet of a coal ash pond, tested positive for dangerous heavy metals linked to coal ash contamination, said Dean Naujoks, an environmentalist with Potomac Riverkeeper. “There’s no doubt in my mind if we test anywhere in the country around coal ash ponds we’re going to consistently find water well contamination.”
PREVIOUS STORY: Dominion’s plan to pump wastewater draws concern in Va.
Pam Faggert, Dominion’s Chief Environmental Officer, says the company conducts regular testing of ground and surface water near the plant and follows the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s more stringent requirements for the ponds.
“I can assure you that safety is Dominion’s top priority, Faggert said in an interview on Thursday. “We would not be doing anything we thought would cause danger for our neighbors. We believe we are taking all the steps necessary to protect the health and safety of our neighbors.”
The Virginia departments of health and environmental quality largely agree – sending letters this month to 24 residents who live close to the ponds, and who might be using well water, telling them they believe their wells are safe, but offering additional testing for chemicals like hexavalent chromium (made famous in the movie “Erin Brockovich”), not flagged in Dominion’s tests.
In the bucolic neighborhood between the plant and Quantico creek, neighbors were divided in the degree to which they trust assurances that the well water here is safe.
“I can’t imagine that it will be totally not harmful. There’s got to be some harm to ash waste,” said Robert Gwin, who uses municipal, not well, water at his home. “If I was on a well I’d be extremely concerned.”
A few houses down, Eileen Thrall, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than three decades confidently filled a coffee mug with well water from her garden hose and drank it when a reporter dropped by on Thursday. She said she drank the well water for many years before switching to municipal water inside her home a few years ago.
“And you can see I’m healthy! I mean I’m 72 years old and I’m healthy. Knock on wood!” Thrall joked, adding that she would probably accept additional testing on her water should it be offered.