Environmental group to sue owner of coal ash disposal site

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The Citizens Coal Council today filed notice that it intends to sue the owner of a large coal ash disposal site along the Monongahela River in LaBelle, Fayette County, alleging it has polluted ground water and endangers public health.

The 360-acre former strip mine and long-time coal waste disposal site, owned and operated by Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc. since 1999, has been used to dispose of hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash from FirstEnergy Corp.'s Mitchell power plant and GenOn Energy's Elrama power plant, both in Washington County.

In January, FirstEnergy announced plans to ship via barges more than 3 million tons of coal ash and smokestack scrubber waste from its Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant in Shippingport to the unlined ash disposal site at LaBelle each year beginning in 2016. The Ohio-based electric utility plans to load the coal ash onto barges at Shippingport and ship it 96 miles up the Ohio and Monongahela rivers.

"Citizens living near mine activities should not have to pay the price when operators don't live up to their responsibilities and comply with environmental laws," said Aimee Erickson, Citizens Coal Council executive director. "Dumping toxic coal ash into an unlined site like this one is not a solution but rather another dangerous problem for the surrounding communities."

William Gorton, an attorney representing Mr. Canestrale, said the 15-page notice presented "unsubstantiated allegations." He said the disposal site is operating according to a consent agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection to stabilize and reclaim the property.

"What Canestrale is doing is in compliance with all permits and the site is highly engineered and regulated," Mr. Gorton said. "Everything he is doing is in strict compliance with applicable law."

The notice, required by environmental laws 60 to 90 days prior to filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, states that operations at the Canestrale site, including uncovered coal ash hauling trucks, creates dust pollution that blows onto nearby residents' properties.

Coal ash dust contains toxins such as antimony, arsenic, chromium and lead and fine airborne particles that cause serious health impacts, according to the notice.

The notice also states the unlined site is leaking aluminum, manganese, sulfates, and total dissolved solids at levels exceeding Pennsylvania drinking water standards, and is polluting streams.

The notice alleges violations of Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law, Air Pollution Control Act, and the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act, and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Clean Air Act.

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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