South Carolina leads the way in coal ash cleanup.
An environmental group announced Tuesday that over 2 million tons of coal ash have been removed from the banks of the Wateree River as a cleanup effort wraps up at a now-defunct power plant near Eastover.
Ash is the name given to waste products of coal plants. South Carolina Electric and Gas reached an agreement to remove the material at its Wateree plant after a 2012 lawsuit by the Southern Environmental Law Center and other organizations.
SELC senior attorney Frank Holleman said hazardous minerals like lead, mercury and arsenic can seep out of the unlined dykes used to hold in the ash and can seep into the groundwater where it mixes with the state’s rivers. SCE&G did not line its older ponds at the facility to prevent seepage, which is now considered best practice.
Holleman said the heavy-minerals like arsenic are, “substances you do not want in your rivers, or your fish, or your drinking supplies, or your body or the bodies’ of your children and your family members.”
Holleman said the clean up of the Wateree site dropped arsenic levels in the river by nearly 90 percent.
“Now in all the monitoring wells, except one, it is within our South Carolina standard of 10 parts per billion,” Holleman said.
As a result of a 2012 lawsuit brought on by the Catawba Riverkeeper and SELC, SCE&G pledged to clean up several sites across the state. So far nearly 90 percent of the estimated 2.4 million tons of coal ash on the Wateree River have been removed.
The cleanup by SCE&G makes South Carolina a model for the rest of the country, Holleman said. “We have a stronger state environmental law and the communities around the state have pressed our utilities to clean up their coal ash.” South Carolina is somewhat unique among coal power states in that all of its utilities have reached agreements to remove coal ash from shuttered facilities.
SELC encourages companies to store coal ash in safer methods like mixing it into cement.