Sierra Club opposes plan for remedial action at Burton Island Coal Ash Disposal Site
The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club opposes this Plan for Remedial Action for Operable Unit 2 of the Burton Island Ash Disposal Site.
The landfill area of coal ash disposal and dredge spoils from the Indian River Power Plant put the environment and human health at risk from potential large scale disasters and from gradual yet equally dangerous contamination as coal ash toxins seep into surrounding water bodies.
Because of its hazardous characteristics, coal ash and other coal combustion wastes are expected to undergo “hazardous waste” rule-making by the Environmental Protection Agency rule-making in the near future, which would increase the standards that DNREC must meet in environmental remediation plans. We feel as though the applicant and the Voluntary Cleanup Program have not addressed the hazardous nature of the landfill in this Plan for Remedial Action, and this proposal does not address the needs of public health and environmental safety.
Instead, this plan proposes to provide the applicant with Voluntary Cleanup Program liability protection for the site based upon only one foot of clean dirt on top of the state's largest coal ash deposit. As per the rules of the Voluntary Cleanup Program, this would offer the applicant an insurance policy against future legal action or future cleanup when the EPA finishes their hazardous waste rule-making for coal ash. It also places nearby communities and aquatic life at risk from infiltration of hazardous pollutants into groundwater and the Inland Bays, and provides a potential for catastrophic failure of the site from sea level rise, storm surge, wave action or heavy rains. The 2011 Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment for the State of Delaware reveals the location of the Burton Island Ash Disposal Site to be in an area of vulnerable coastal wetlands. The impacts of sea level rise on the site or groundwater levels are not anticipated in the proposed plan, and the plan does not contain the remediation necessary to protect the environment or future generations.
Delaware’s Inland Bay 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, Nickel and Selenium) that have leached into the shoreline sediment, offshore sediment, surface water and groundwater from the old Burton Island coal ash landfill demand that this area be treated as a hazardous waste landfill and receive an appropriately rigorous level of remedial action.
Despite the potential for dangerous bioaccumulation of toxic metals in the food chain, the State of Delaware does not adequately know the impact that the Burton Island Landfill has on aquatic life or in its assessment of fish consumption advisories. The National Listing of Fish and Wildlife Advisories, which compiles a database of all fish advisory samples in the United States, reveals that fish samples for toxins in the Indian River have not been tested since the early 1990s, and then only for mercury compounds: 6 yellow perch were tested in 1990; 7 spot, 4 bluefish, and 2 summer flounder in 1991; and 5 bluefish and 3 summer flounder in 1992. Of these, only the 3 summer flounder in 1992 were sampled from the Indian River Bay at the southwest end of Burton Island.
The State of Delaware has poorly assessed the bioaccumulation of hazardous and carcinogenic toxic chemicals into the aquatic food chain. This Plan for Remedial Action is therefore 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 disposal site have had, and are anticipated to have in the future, to surrounding water bodies, wildlife, fishers, and nearby communities in an effort to eliminate those risks.
DNREC is required by the Clean Water Act to manage resources so that water bodies 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 tax payers and future generations. We therefore ask the State of Delaware to reject this Plan for Remedial Action for the Burton Island Ash Disposal Site Operable Unit 2.