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By Rick Stouffer
Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010

Four Western Pennsylvania sites are among 31 nationwide allowing waste from coal-fired power plants to pollute nearby rivers, creeks, groundwater and wetlands with toxic substances, according to a report issued by environmental groups Wednesday.

By calling attention to the 31 locations, environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice hope to influence the Office of Management and Budget to "stop sitting" on a delayed Environmental Protection Agency coal-ash site contamination rule.

"These sites are harmful to people's health and the environment -- that's inexcusable," said Lisa Evans, senior administrative counsel for Washington, D.C.-based Earthjustice, during a conference call with reporters.

The utilities that own the four sites, Allegheny Energy Inc. of Greensburg and Houston-based RRI Energy Inc., both said they are in compliance with all permits related to their locations and continue to monitor those sites on at least a quarterly basis.

The regional sites, in Allegheny, Washington and Indiana counties, are man-made or naturally occurring pits where the byproducts from burning coal to make electricity have been placed for decades.

Over time, the thousands of tons of what's known as coal combustion waste has found its way into groundwater on the massive sites and, in some cases, leaked into water sources outside the containment area, according to the report, "Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites."

The regional sites include:

• Allegheny Energy's Mitchell Power Station in Courtney, Washington County. The report alleges that coal waste at the site has damaged groundwater moving off the site toward the Monongahela River, with the primary pollutant being arsenic.

"We conduct quarterly groundwater monitoring at Mitchell, and we are in compliance with our permits," Allegheny Energy spokesman David Neurohr said.

• RRI Energy's now-shuttered Phillips plant site in South Heights, on the Allegheny-Beaver county border. Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice assert that while two ash ponds at the site were decommissioned more than a decade ago, samples from wells located where groundwater is moving off the location exceed drinking water standards for dissolved solids, chloride, fluoride, manganese and aluminum. The former Duquesne Light Co. plant was decommissioned in 2002.

• RRI's Fern Valley landfill in Jefferson. The study found that groundwater and surface water moving off the landfill site is contaminated, with the primary pollutant found to be arsenic.

• RRI's Seward Generating Station in New Florence, Indiana County. The site has been used for coal ash disposal for 56 years, but the environmentalists allege RRI's predecessors never secured a permit for the early disposal of the substance. There are two closed ash disposal sites and one coal ash-coal refuse site at Seward, with pollutants including iron, manganese, aluminum and antimony leeching into the groundwater on the location.

"All three of the sites cited in the Environmental Integrity Project report feature closed coal ash landfills and ponds," said Steve Davies, RRI's Canonsburg-based solid waste management director. "We continue to monitor all of the sites on at least a quarterly basis and will do so into the future. We are in good standing with regulators at all of these locations."

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