Local environmentalists met last week to work on a plan to keep coal ash out of Anson County.
Denise Lee, a leader of Pee Dee Water, Air, Land and Lives, said the group needs to be vigilant in its efforts to keep coal ash out of the landfill in Polkton, which has been named by Duke Energy as a backup location to store the ash. Lee said that the ash has “radioactive constituents” that pose a health hazard to residents.
Cary Rodgers, a member of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said one of his primary concerns is protecting the county’s water supply from leachate, water that leaks from coal ash storage. He said he does not believe the county’s wastewater treatment plant is prepared to treat contaminated water and warned that Anson could be the next Flint, Michigan. Residents in that town are currently dealing with the effects of lead-tainted water.
Rodgers also wondered whether the county was ready to accept the liability if the water was polluted.
Lee agreed, adding that Anson could also face economic effects if the water is polluted since the county sells water to neighboring counties. Lee said the ash is stored with thin plastic liners barely thicker than a credit card.
Audience member Daniel Weil also expressed concerns with the liners.
“Nothing’s forever but salvation,” Weil said.
Rodgers said that coal ash can not only pollute the water, but the air as well, and turn clothes drying on the line black.
There are other ways to handle the coal ash, Rodgers said, but he added he does not want to see it recycled into other materials.
“I don’t want to see it repurposed,” Rodgers said. “Do you want your schools made from coal ash?”
Jeff Brooks, a representative with Duke Energy, said via email that Anson is only a backup location if the company cannot use storage sites at the Colon Mine in Sanford or the Brickhaven Mine in Moncure.
Brooks also said Duke takes measures to protect the environment and public safety when transporting coal ash. Leachate is collected before being processed by wastewater treatment facilities, and rail cars filled with coal ash are capped to keep the ash in place.
“All of the storage applications that we select feature multiple layers of natural and synthetic barriers to fully contain the ash on all sides and separate it from surrounding groundwater and the environment,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the liner that Lee said is so thin is actually safe to use.
“The projects use high-density polyethylene liners as as synthetic barrier, which in exponentially more robust than a simple sheet of plastic,” he said. “And the multiple layers of natural barriers, in addition to the synthetic barriers, provide extra margins of protection for the materials stores in the site. Extensive groundwater monitoring is used to ensure the containment system functions as designed.”
Pee Dee WALL and the defense league members have spoken at multiple county commissioners’ meetings about their concerns and are waiting for a response to a resolution banning coal ash that they presented to the commissioners during their March meeting.
They asked commissioners for updates on the citizens advisory board and have asked that new members be appointed to the board to keep a better watch on county matters.
The groups also collected signatures on petitions asking the county to ban coal ash.
“It’s a shame the citizens have to unite and use their own money, their own time to do the job that our government officials are supposed to do,” Lee said. “That’s why we’re at the ground level here, although we do work at the higher level through Blue Ridge fighting the state and everything. But right now, our fight is with the county commissioners.”
Weil volunteered to help organize a fundraising and informational event, potentially a hot dog sale, for Pee Dee Wall to help educate residents about the dangers of coal ash.
Environmentalists from both groups plan to speak at the county commissioners meeting at 6 p.m. April 5 and have encouraged others to come forward as well.
Pee Dee WALL will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. April 28. It normally holds its meetings in the Little Theater in the basement of the Hampton B. Allen Library in Wadesboro, but Lee said at the meeting that she needs to confirm the location.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.