Md. requires liners, collectors at coal-ash dumps

November 26, 2008|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,

The state announced long-awaited rules yesterday to keep toxic substances from leaking from coal-ash dumps.

The regulations require liners and runoff collection systems at all new dump sites accepting coal ash. The purpose is to prevent harmful metals and chemicals from leaching into ground water or nearby streams. Dump operators must also take steps to prevent ash from being blown onto neighboring properties.

The state Department of the Environment proposed regulating coal-ash dumps after it was discovered that toxic chemicals had contaminated the wells of 23 homes near two sand-and-gravel pits in Gambrills. Constellation Energy had used the pits to dump ash from its Brandon Shores power plant.

The state imposed a $1 million fine on Constellation and the owner of the pits and required that nearby homes be connected to public water. The energy company recently reached a $45 million settlement with surrounding residents.

Maryland's eight coal-burning power plants generate about 2 million tons of coal ash each year, much of it dumped in old quarry pits or abandoned coal mines with little oversight. The ash often contains toxic substances such as mercury, which can cause brain damage, or chromium, a carcinogen.

While about half is dumped in pits, the rest is used in construction work and making cement. State officials said they intend to propose rules to regulate that waste next year.

The new rules take effect Monday. They will require coal-ash disposal sites to get permits that will require them to install liners, monitor ground water and prevent ash from blowing onto neighboring properties.

But the rules will not apply to existing dump sites until their operating permits come up for renewal over the next five years. State inspectors are checking current sites and may require intermediate action at three operated by the Mirant power company, said department spokeswoman Dawn Stoltzfus.

Stoltzfus said the state's processing of permits for ash disposal may be slowed by a lack of funding. Legislation that would have let the agency levy fees on disposal failed to pass this year.

Environmentalists welcomed the state move, noting that federal regulations have been stalled for eight years. But Brad Heavner of Environment Maryland said the rules should have been more strict.

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