Health minded kayakers or canoe paddlers learn their chops touring the Farrar Gut backwater at Dutch Gap. But recent findings by citizens group, Hands Across the Lake, indicate that the old James River channel (used before the Dutch Gap Canal was built during the Civil War) could be contaminated with heavy metals. Although Dominion Virginia Power disputes the findings that arsenic, chromium, and lead are among heavy metals are well below the standards set by the EPA and DEQ.
Chesterfield County Duputy Administrator William Dupler said the effluent is not released into Farrar Gut released only upstream from Dutch Gap Landing and would not affect those who use Farrar Gut and Farrar Island for recreation. He said that that section of Farrar Gut is only accessed by a 50 foot or so opening from the rest of the Gut.
Kyle Winter of the DEQ, said that outflow number 003, a long sluice to cool steam from the piping that is in an enclosed system that would not be addressed in the permit and contains no carcinogens. Outflow 004 is water drained from the fly ash pond above it. Additional outflows, 001, 002 ,and 006-011, are located above the Dutch Landing boat launch on the James River. At least one fly ash pond’s effluent drains into Farrar Gut.
As early as 1945, Dominion Virginia Power has had a coal-fired power generation station at Dutch Gap. When coal is burned to heat the steam that runs the electric turbines, a substantial amount of waste is generated. The waste comes in the form of fly ash. For years, Dominion has used settling ponds to separate the toxic fly ash using water drained off as the fly ash sinks to the bottom, but not all carcinogens are removed in the ponds
“Coal ash is toxic waste,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Recent studies have shown that leaving coal ash in unlined pits can allow dangerous pollutants to end up in our water.”
Kyle Winter of the DEQ said that outflow number 003, a long sluice to cool steam from the piping is in an enclosed system that would not be addressed in the permit and contains no carcinogens. Outflow 004 is water drained from the fly ash pond above it. Additional outflows, 001, 002 and 011, are located above the Dutch Landing boat launch on the James River.
Dominion has proposed draining the ponds and capping them with clay.
Samples of water from the outflow were tested by Duke University, and by Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who was acknowledged for exposing the Flint, Mich. lead piping incident. The same results were found by both institutions, according to Hands Across the Lake: levels of lead six times the state standards; chromium almost two percent, and arsenic levels at 170 parts per million. The Department of Environmental Quality set maximum arsenic levels at 10 parts per million. The draining into Farrar’s Gut is 10 times what it takes to support life according to NIH.
Dupler said unless water samples are collected in a manner standardized in the chemical testing field, they could very well be contaminated.
Addleson’s statement squares with the samples of the water sent the two testing facilities. “The samples of water we sent to Duke and VaTech was black,” said Peter Martin, a member of Hands Across the Lake.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “How much arsenic can be in drinking water? The maximum level of inorganic arsenic permitted in U.S. drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb). This standard was set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some states, such as New Jersey, have more stringent drinking water standards for arsenic than 10 ppb. There are no arsenic water standards for private wells.”
While the water effluent from the settling ponds (discharge) at the power station is not used as drinking water and does not affect wells due to elevation, just ingesting the water while swimming can be a problem.
One boater, Lyndsay Chandler, said she used to accompanied her friends swimming near the outflow because water effluent was warm (90 degrees), and a rope swing allowed them to have fun in the water. She said the water was dark there, especially at the bottom.
According to permit documents: “Virginia Electric and Power Company has applied for reissuance of a permit for the Dominion Chesterfield Power Station. The applicant, proposes to release cooling water, treated industrial wastewater and stormwater at a combined rate of 1,075 million gallons per day from five outfalls into state waters. The reissuance addresses additional industrial wastewater and stormwater discharges associated with the closure of the facility’s ash ponds pursuant to a 2015 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Final Rule that regulates the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR). The facility proposes to release the cooling water, treated industrial wastewater and stormwater into the James River and Farrar Gut in Chesterfield County in the James River watershed. A watershed is the land area drained by a river and its incoming streams.”
Although the Public Meeting took place last week, citizens can still comment until July 22, 2016, online at ChesapeakeEnergyCenterWaterPermit@deq.virginia.gov