Residents Worry About Coal Ash Impacts
THE BEAVER COUNTY TIMES
LABELLE, Pa. (AP) – Yma Smith, of LaBelle, lives 315 yards from a coal ash dump. When she bought her house 16 years ago, it was white.
Today, it’s gray.
“There’s fly ash all over my house. I’m so tired of washing my walls down. My windows are dirty all the time. I was so proud of my house. This is what my house looks like now,” she said, pulling out photos of her home. The grime on the once-white siding is evident.
Smith was one of more than 50 attendees at the environmental justice outreach meeting held by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Environmental Advocate at the Luzerne Township fire hall in Fayette County Thursday.
The meeting’s purpose was to discuss the nearby mine reclamation site in La- Belle operated by Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc., and the company’s application renewals.
But Smith doesn’t want to see those permits renewed. She and her husband - Rudolph, a mortician - are both on kidney dialysis. In fact, she was just put on the donor list for a new kidney on Thursday, she said.
“My doctors think it could be environmental,” she said. “(They) said it’s uncommon for a husband and wife to be on dialysis at the same time.”
The LaBelle site has been an issue in the area for some time. In June, some local residents filed a federal complaint against Matt Canestrale Contracting, on claims of illegal disposal of coal ash and processing of coal mine waste over many years.
The complaint said the 500-acre site contains an abandoned coal refuse pile made up of about 40 million tons of waste, with two coal slurry ponds and millions of cubic yards of coal combustion waste, also called coal ash, that’s piled dozens of feet deep on top of the coal refuse.
Another LaBelle resident Lenora Bryd put it simply.
“When is the DEP going to take our concerns about breathing fly ash waste seriously? We’ve been breathing this (expletive) for years,” she said.
Close to home
About 80 miles away from LaBelle sits Little Blue Run, in Shippingport, another issue in another community - both with a coal ash in common.
Akron-based FirstEnergy Co. recently scrapped its plans to expand Little Blue, the 1,300-acre facility that has served as the disposal site for Bruce Mansfield’s 550,000 tons of fly ash and 98,000 tons of bottom ash produced per year. The impoundment was built in 1974, when there was no requirement for lining it.
The Little Blue Run expansion also had lack of support from local officials; and a 2012 consent decree filed by the DEP complicated it as well. The consent decree required the closing of the impoundment by 2016 and gave FirstEnergy an $800,000 fine and a deadline of March 31 to submit a closure plan.
FirstEnergy announced in January it plans to ship 3 million tons of coal ash from annually to the LaBelle site beginning Jan. 1, 2017.
Despite the controversy surrounding the plan, FirstEnergy spokeswoman Stephanie Thornton said Thursday the company still plans to ship the coal ash waste to LaBelle.
“FirstEnergy’s plans have not changed,” she said. “We are currently working with the Pennsylvania DEP to secure the permits required for Bruce Mansfield (coal combustion byproduct) material to be approved for beneficial use at mine reclamation sites in the state of Pennsylvania. This must be accomplished first in order to move forward with plans to utilize the LaBelle facility.”
DEP spokesman John Poister said both this permit and the company’s Solid Waste Management Permit for the closure of Little Blue Run are in preliminary technical review.
Passing the buck
Environmentalists have long said that this plan will simply transport the problem from one community to another.
“Dumping coal ash onto unlined gob piles is not a solution to mine drainage pollution and isn’t fair to communities living near these sites,” said EIP Attorney Alayne Gobeille in a past interview. “It doesn’t make sense to ship the same toxic waste Pennsylvania acknowledges is a threat to health and the environment at the Little Blue Run impoundment to an unlined mine dump and call it beneficial.
“Conditions at this site are not improving and the disposal of coal-ash waste under the guise of cleaning up mining pollution puts La- Belle residents in harm’s way, many of whom have contaminated seeps leaking onto their property or dangerous particulate matter pollution blowing onto their homes from MCC’s operations.”
“I’m just afraid that the DEP is going to allow them to haul the toxic coal ash on barges, haul to another community and dumped in another unlined facility and expose not only the LaBelle residents, but the river valley residents,” said Lisa Graves- Marcucci, also of EIP. “We just have to stop the madness.”
She also said that because CCBs aren’t classified as hazardous waste, they aren’t required to be covered with tarps when hauled via barge.
According to FirstEnergy officials, coal ash from Bruce Mansfield would be transported by barge along the Ohio and Monongahela rivers from Shippingport to LaBelle.
Taking this route, the uncovered barges will pass several cities and municipalities - Beaver, Aliquippa, Ambridge, Sewickley, Pittsburgh, West Mifflin, McKeesport, until finally reaching LaBelle.
And Graves-Marcucci isn’t OK with this.
“My question to the DEP is: How many more communities are you willing to put at risk?”
And as for Smith, she worries. She worries about her friends - many of whom are sick, either with cancer or kidney issues, like her. At the meeting, three different friends greet her - all with cancer. In fact, she says she knows more than 20 people living in LaBelle who have died from one of those ailments.
And she worries about her great-nephew, 9, who lives with her.
“Living in LaBelle, he might not grow up to be a healthy man,” she said.