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Tr-Ash Talk: $2 Billion Coal Ash Suit In Chesapeake

On Tuesday, Virginia attorney Ted G. Yoakam, representing nearly 400 people living near the Battlefield Golf Club in Chesapeake, refiled a lawsuit against Dominion Virginian Power, MJM Golf LLC (the owner of the golf course) and two additional parties involved in building the course, requesting more than $2 billion in damages. 

The refiling doubles the demand for damages of the original suit and is based on new evidence of residential water wells contaminated with hazardous substances.  Wells near the golf course were found with elevated levels of toxic metals, including lead, vanadium, manganese, cobalt, nickel, cadmium and zinc. The complaint also alleges that 10 individuals – nine of them children – are injured by exposure to the hazardous chemicals from coal ash. Arsenic found in the fly ash on one of the properties was 700 times the accepted level, and radioactive elements thorium, radium and uranium in the ash was twice the level of background soils.  
 
Yet, according to Dominion, the ash is “completely non-hazardous.” This is a familiar story.
 
The utility knows that its coal ash is dangerous, but it opts for the cheapest means of disposal. The public be damned if they’re in the way. An arsenic plume at the Dominion Virginian Power Plant from coal ash dumping did not stop the company from promoting the use of 1.5 million tons of ash to construct a golf course next to residential homes. While the use of ash for a golf course is new, the story is the same, and we’ve seen companies employ similar tactics in Maryland, Indiana and New Mexico, dumping in someone else’s back yard, despite knowledge that the material is dangerous.
 
If the companies had their way, no one would ever know that toxic material was dumped.   In fact, yesterday’s court filing in Chesapeake includes a document entitled “Ash Structural Fill Questions/Answers,” which was apparently prepared by Dominion to ready their officials for their meetings with the public and city officials. The memo contained “practice questions” addressing public concerns that might arise regarding the safety of using massive amounts of coal ash to create a golf course in a residential area above a very shallow drinking water aquifer. 
 
The document contains the following question: “I am on a well – is the ash a danger to the groundwater?”
 
According to the Virginian-Pilot, the handwritten notes beneath the typed answer read: “Do not mention hazardous vs. drinking water. Just say ‘completely non-hazardous.’ ”
 
Dominion officials are free to call coal ash anything they wish—and they do-- because federal and state officials refuse to identify the waste as hazardous and to regulate its use and disposal accordingly. This is the role of the EPA—to protect the public from hazardous wastes that can make people sick. The EPA should have the courage to take a stand and announce to the nation that coal ash is plainly and simply hazardous to your health. 

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