FirstEnergy sued over coal waste dump
A group of West Virginia residents have sued FirstEnergy Corp. over pollution and alleged property damage from a coal waste dump the company has agreed to shut down because of arsenic, sulfates and other contaminates that leaked into drinking water.
The Little Blue Run dump in Beaver County straddles the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border but the lawsuit filed in federal court in Wheeling, W. Va., by more than 50 property owners does not include any of its Pennsylvania neighbors. The lawsuit seeks damages of more than $75,000 for each plaintiff.
Beyond the drinking water problems, the dump has also inundated neighboring properties with water, swamping their yards, shifting their foundations and causing mold to grow, alleged the West Virginia plaintiffs, all from Hancock County in the Northern Panhandle. It has also produced a hydrogen sulfide smell that hurt property values, they said.
The plaintiff accuse FirstEnergy of negligence and “reckless, willful and wanton conduct” in creating the situation.
A FirstEnergy spokeswoman at its Akron headquarters declined comment, saying company officials haven't yet seen the lawsuit. The company has an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to close the site because of drinking water contamination but that deal does not include any damages for property owners.
The property owners are represented by three law firms, including one connected to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The Kennedy firm, which is based in New York and specializes in coal waste pollution, has been working with several families in Pennsylvania for years, said Kevin J. Madonna, Kennedy's law partner.
“The type of damage that the community in (West Virginia) is experiencing is not unique just to them,” Madonna said in a phone interview Monday. “Unfortunately, there are hundreds of these types of unlined impoundments causing damage all across the country.”
Coal-fired power plants use these dumps to hold ash waste. That ash contains arsenic, selenium, lead and mercury, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent years debating the need for strong controls on it. In June it confirmed 38 sites nationwide where coal waste has a documented history of leaching dangerous levels of chemicals into water.
That included Little Blue Run, a man-made, unlined reservoir that's been an environmental flash point for years, drawing attention from environmental groups around the country. FirstEnergy settled a DEP lawsuit last year with an agreement to stop using the dump by Dec. 31, 2016. The consent decree noted the pollution coming from the dump.
The 976-acre pond covers about a fifth of Greene, Beaver County, with the chemical balance in its water often turning it a “Caribbean” shade of blue, as the dump's manager at FirstEnergy has described it. The company plans to let the waste harden, and then cover it with layers of high-density plastic, cloth and soil. That process could take 15 years or more after the company stops dumping there, company officials have said.
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total MMedia.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh region’s unemployment rate stays steady
- Nonprofit Concordia Lutheran Ministries adjusts to marketplace realities
- GNC will expand its testing of supplements in settlement with NY
- Stocks gain on encouraging signs in spending and home sales
- Heinz merging with Kraft in mega-deal; headquarters to stay in Pittsburgh
- Consumer spending inches up in February as income soars
- Michigan man takes Heinz to court over Dip & Squeeze ketchup packet
- Pa. Gas & Electric agrees to $6.8 million settlement of polar vortex claims
- Stop foreign dumping, U.S. Steel CEO Longhi tells Congress
- UnitedHealth bulks up for prescription drug cost fight
- Increased credit card use reflects confidence, flat wages