State environmental officials are now reviewing plans to close four of the last remaining coal ash ponds in South Carolina.
Public comment expired Friday for closure of the two ponds each at South Carolina Electric & Gas’ (SCE&G’s) former Canady Power Plant near Walterboro and Santee Cooper’s shuttered Jeffries Station near Moncks Corner.
Environmental groups have pressured utilities to remove toxic materials stored in water at the now-closed former coal power plants. The fly ash is a byproduct of coal power production. Utilities often store it in manmade ponds to keep the toxic material from blowing in the wind. However, conservationists say many of those older ponds are often unlined and run the risk of toxins like arsenic seeping into groundwater.
They also worry about the presence of the ponds so close to rivers after the failure of one such pond in North Carolina caused more than 39,000 tons of toxic ash to spill into the Dan River in 2014. Duke Energy has agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution for violations that led to the spill.
“All the ash being removed from storage will either be recycled for beneficial use in products such as cement or wallboard or placed in a lined landfill,” SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said, estimating up to 75 percent of the material could be recycled.
Work is already underway to remove the ash at Canady, which SCE&G shuttered in 2013. State-owned utility Santee Cooper shut down the Jeffries plant in 2012, citing tougher coal emission regulations.
Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Frank Holleman says South Carolina utilities have acted to remove ash from all unlined ponds located near rivers, although it will still take several more years to remove all the ash.
“Since these utilities have been removing the coal ash, the arsenic (groundwater) contamination has dropped by as much as 90 percent,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “So we’re making communities safer, we’re protecting rivers and we’re actually eliminating pollution.”