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Toxic dumping into waterways raises concerns

  • By Kandice Bell
  • |
  • Mar. 24, 2017 - 1:12 PM

Residents will not have to be notified if harmful substances are dumped into a nearby body of water.

Last week the Georgia House Natural Resources and Environment committee did not pass legislation that would notify residents when toxic pollutants are being dumped into nearby rivers, lakes and landfills.

One of the biggest concerns with this ruling is the dumping of coal ash, according to the Georgia Water Coalition. Coal ash is the waste left over from burning coal. Georgia Power announced the closing of its 29 ash ponds earlier last year, which includes nearby Plant Yates.

Under current Georgia  laws, utilities – in and out of state – can also ship ash to Georgia’s municipal solid waste landfills. These landfills can receive thousands of tons of coal ash every day without notifying the local community and nearby property owners, according to the Georgia Water Coalition.

“Georgia Power is set to close 29 coal ash ponds all over the state, so we are only talking about 29, 30-day public notices,” said Jason Ulseth, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “At a minimum, the public deserves to know when toxic water will be discharged into the river so they can take appropriate precautions to protect the health of their families, crops and livestock."

In a previous Newnan Times-Herald interview, Aaron Mitchell, Georgia Power general manager of environmental affairs, said that impermeable barriers will be around ponds in addition to the impermeable cover to keep the ponds from having contact with water.

“The ponds that are closest or adjacent to waterways, there are 12 of those, will remain closed with advanced engineering methods,” Mitchell said. “We’re putting more than a cap on. This is not ‘cap and place.’ We’re taking additional measures that go beyond merely what a cap will provide.”

Mitchell said additional measures have been put in place to make sure ponds, as they are being closed, are isolated from water. He also said the utility company will be monitoring the ponds for at least 30 years and likely much longer, which is required under Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s new rule, which was approved by the Georgia Board of Natural Resources in October 2016.

“We’re doing more than is required,” Mitchell said. “Not only with the closure, but with the information as well. All details and data and all that was done is communicated by Georgia Power way in advance of regulatory obligations, which says we don’t have to announce the data publicly until 2018.”

Mitchell said each round of groundwater monitoring has been summarized and posted to their website. He said the company has also reached out to media to make sure everyone is informed.

“We’ve been engaged early on,” he said. “We will continue to communicate milestones.”

Another question raised by environmentalists is whether any of the toxins from ponds will be dumped into rivers, such as the Chattahoochee, which is closest to Plant Yates.

“We are committed to ensuring that we meet the requirements of our permits and are protective of the state’s waterways,” Jacob Hawkins, Georgia Power spokesperson said in a previous email response.

"Georgia Power provides advance notice to the Georgia EPD and obtains approval on our plans before dewatering our ponds," Jacob Hawkins with Georgia Power said in an email statement. "We use water treatment systems designed to ensure that no water is discharged from our facility until it meets EPD water quality standards that are protective of our waterways. We sample all discharge, report the data to EPD and will also post the data to our website."

Boron, sulfates and many metals identified in coal ash in excessive amounts can negatively impact human health and cause cancer and nervous system issues, create problems in rivers and end up in the food chain, according to Chris Manganiello, water policy director for the Chattahoochee River Keepers.


Trump aims to modify Clean Water Act Rule

The Trump administration could possibly slash programs aimed at slowing climate change and improving water safety and air quality, while eliminating thousands of jobs, according to a draft of the Environmental Protection Agency budget proposal obtained by The Associated Press.

Under the tentative plan from the Office of Management and Budget, the agency's funding would be reduced by roughly 25 percent and about 3,000 jobs would be cut, about 19 percent of the agency's staff.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week requiring the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant agencies to review water regulations, such as the Waters of the United States rule, which applies to 60 percent of the bodies of water in the U.S., to make sure they are not harming the economy.

The regulation, which was created under the Clean Water Act of the early 1970s, grants the federal government authority over major bodies of water, rivers, streams and wetlands, to make sure the bodies of water are free of harmful pollutants or toxins.

Gil Rogers, the director of Southern Environmental Law Center Georgia office, said the regulations were important to “protect our air and water.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit that works to protect the health and environment of the Southeast.

“We still have a lot of challenges when it comes to water pollution,” Rogers said. “Lakes, ponds, rivers and streams still deal with sewage spills, even since the Clean Water Act went into effect. These issues just don’t go away. It requires sustained attention and investment in order to correct them.”

Rogers said if the policy is weakened, the decision “will end up impacting public health and local communities.”

Rogers said budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency division in Georgia could be detrimental to a department that already lacks sufficient funding.

Trump has said he plans to pay for billions of dollars more for the military by cutting spending on domestic agencies and departments. Trump plans to submit his budget to congress the week of March 13.