By BRUCE RITCHIE
Environmental groups say a coal-fired power plant along the Apalachicola River is leaking cancer-causing pollutants into the river.
The Earthjustice law firm announced Thursday it had filed a federal lawsuit in Tallahassee on behalf of environmental groups to stop the alleged leaks from Gulf Power Co.’s Plant Scholz near Sneads.
Coal ash typically contains toxic metals including mercury, cadmium and arsenic, according to state and federal agencies.
A lawsuit and the claims in it represent only one side in a legal dispute. A spokeswoman for Gulf Power said there are no leaks coming from the ash settling pond.
Members of the groups observed water seeping through a berm around the series of ponds and collected water samples in a discharge canal showing high levels of contaminants, Alisa Coe, staff attorney with the Earthjustice law firm in Tallahassee.
The plant was built in 1953. Gulf Power announced last year that it will close the plant by April 2015.
“Dealing with this problem now and ensuring it’s not a continuous hazard is really important,” Coe told Florida Environments.
Coe said there isn’t enough information to know whether the leaks pose a threat to people who swim in the river, eat fish from it or eat oysters from Apalachicola Bay. She represents the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Apalachicola Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Gulf Power says its groundwater monitoring system has been in place since the mid-1980s and Plant Scholz has always been in compliance.
“After receiving the letter of intent from Earthjustice, Gulf Power and (the Florida Department of Environmental Protection) conducted follow-up site inspections and sampling tests,” company spokeswoman Natalie C. Smith said. “All test results were determined to be within compliance and did not support the allegations made.”
Additionally, studies show that there are no differences between the ecosystems upstream from the plant and those that are downstream, Smith said.
“We plan to fight these allegations through the legal system,” she said.
The lawsuit was filed as environmental groups are pressuring the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt tougher regulations on coal ash storage and disposal. Industry groups warn against higher costs of regulation and say the ash has beneficial uses, such as in road materials.
In 2013, the Florida Legislature passed SB 682, which defines beneficial uses of coal ash in Florida. The legislation was filed in response to industry concerns that the federal EPA would regulate coal ash as hazardous waste, meaning that it couldn’t be taken to landfills under Florida law.
In February, coal ash from a Duke Energy power plant settling pond spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina and it has coated 70 miles of the waterway into Virginia, according to Associated Press. The EPA in May announced a plan with Duke to clean up the river.
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com)