Flooding Waccamaw River could reach coal ash pit

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    CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – Flood water from the Waccamaw River could potentially reach a 200,000 ton coal ash pile in Conway. The pile is located on Santee Cooper’s property on the site of the old Grainger Generating Station.

    “Our main concern with the Waccamaw River right now is it could flood the coal ash ponds at the old Grainger facility. And if it does flood and inundate those sites, we could have potential contaminants in the river,” said Waccamaw River Keeper Cara Schildtknecht.

    Southern Environmental Law litigator Frank Holleman says SEL, the Waccamaw River Keeper, and the Coastal Conservation League filed a lawsuit against Santee Cooper back in 2014, fighting to get the Grainger coal ash pile removed. Santee Cooper agreed and began moving the 1.6 million tons of coal ash.

    “We’re down to 200,000 tons but it still needs to be contained,” said Santee Cooper spokesperson Tracy Vreeland.

    Coal ash contains heavy metal like arsenic, mercury, lead, and selenium. “Those can be harmful to humans and to animals,” said Schildtknecht.

    “The concern is over those trace metals, but DHEC says it wouldn’t effect water treatment plants. The closest one is about 20 miles down,” said Vreeland.

    While Santee Cooper says it’s unlikely, Southern Environmentalist say contaminating drinking water could be possible and it could also be hazardous to our wildlife.

    “It does impact fish and some of those products could be bio accumulators which means once they enter the food chain, they could climb up further in the food chain,” said Schildtknecht. “If you eat fish out of the river and they contain those heavy metals you’re going to have a problem,” she added.

    Getting contaminants out of the water would be difficult. Dredging would be one of the only solutions.

    “The sedimentation of those metals would mean they stay in the river for a long time,” said Schildtknecht

    While the water creeps closer, Santee Cooper says they’re working hard to make sure flood waters do not make their way to the coal ash. Vreeland says workers built a temporary levee to protect the ash ponds, and they’re pumping water from the Waccamaw into the pond to help balance the pressure.

    “We’ve done everything we can up until this point and we do have other plans in place should a dike breach,” she said.

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