A remedy in search of answers

March 17, 2013

The Burton Island coal ash dump from the NRG Indian River Power Plant is the subject of a remediation plan proposed by the company (NRG) and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).  The DNREC hearing on the plan, Feb 6, at the Millsboro Fire Hall, brought more questions than answers.

The Delaware chapter of the Sierra Club opposes this plan of remediation action for the Burton Island coal ash dump site.

Because of its hazardous characteristics, coal ash and other coal combustion wastes are expected to undergo EPA rulemaking in the near future, which would increase the standards that DNREC must meet in environmental remediation plans.  We feel as though the NRG and the Voluntary Cleanup Program have not addressed the hazardous nature of the coal ash dump site.  As per the rules of the VCP, this would offer NRG an insurance policy against future legal action or future cleanup when the EPA finishes their hazardous waste rulemaking for coal ash.

It places nearby communities and aquatic life at risk from infiltration of hazardous pollutants into ground water and the Inland Bays, and provides a potential for catastrophic failure of the site from storm surge, tidal action, heavy rains and sea level rise.  The 2011 Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment for the State of Delaware reveals the location of the Burton Island Coal Ash Dump site to be in an area of vulnerable coastal wetlands.

Delaware’s Inland Bays waters, which have been designated as “waters of exceptional recreational or ecological significance” under the state’s water quality standards, have also been designated as “impaired waters” under the Federal Clean Water Act.  The documented concentrations of coal ash compounds (arsenic, aluminum, barium, cobalt, copper, mercury, and selenium) that have leached into the shoreline sediment, offshore sediment, surface water and ground water from the old Burton Island coal ash dump site demand that this are be treated as a hazardous waste landfill and receive an appropriately rigorous level of remedial action.

The National Listing of Fish and Wildlife Advisories a compiled database of all fish advisory samples in Indian River, indicates that there has been no testing for toxins in fish since the early 1990s.

The corrective options offered in the remediation plan include DNREC’s preferred plan that covers the top of the two-and-a-half-acre dump with fabric and 12 inches of soil.  This plan does not address the perimeter shoreline of the dump which is protected by permeable fabric and rip rap and vulnerable to leaching toxins.  This option is estimated to cost $2 million.  The second option is to truck out the entire waste spoils with thousands of truck loads over approximately twenty-three years at a cost of approximately $300 million.
The Remediation Action Plan is ill-informed as to the extent of environmental and public health risk, and should be revised to consider the impact that the toxic properties of the dump site have had, and are anticipated to have in the future to surrounding bodies of water, wildlife, aquatic life and nearby communities in an effort to eliminate those risks.

The remediation plan needs to address the following questions:

•    Where is the data that demonstrates safety from seeping arsenic and other toxins from storms and tidal changes?
•    Why is DNREC’s preferred corrective action ($2million) not fully addressing the leaching of toxins into the Indian River Bay?
•    Where are the specifics from the “long-term stewardship plan” for monitoring?  Who, when and how are inspections and sampling carried out and reported?
•    Does DNREC’s proposed remediation plan consider EPA’s new findings as to the exposure levels of toxins that can cause health risks from the human consumption of shellfish and finfish?  
•    Do the EPA’s new findings as to health risks from the human consumption of shellfish and finfish change the Inland Bays status under Delaware’s Hazardous Substances Cleanup Act?

DNREC is required by the Clean Water Act to manage resources so that bodies of water are fishable, drinkable, and swimmable.  This Plan does not come close to accomplishing those goals and is inadequate to protect the Inland Bays or public health.  Instead, it appears to be a least-cost way of passing the risks of toxic waste to taxpayers and future generations.  We ask the State of Delaware to reject this plan of remediation of the Burton Island Coal Ash Dump.

DNREC has extended the public comment period until March 29.  You may contact DNREC’s project manager at with your concerns on the remediation plan.

Chuck Schonder
Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club
Ocean View

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