No Current Risk from Golf Course Fly Ash EPA Says

(Virginia Pilot 4-23-10) After an investigation that stretched for nearly two years, a contractor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that contaminants found in the water under a Chesapeake golf course sculpted from fly ash pose no public health threat.
 
The conclusion effectively ends the federal agency's involvement and means the Battlefield Golf Club at Centerville will not land on a list of the nation's most contaminated properties.
 
The EPA report also comes in the middle of a $1 billion lawsuit filed by a group of more than 400 nearby residents against Dominion Virginia Power. The company supplied 1.5 million tons of fly ash - a residue from the burning of coal for electricity - to help build the 216-acre golf course several years ago.
 
City officials still plan to spend up to $6 million committed by Dominion to extend public water to residents on Centerville Turnpike, Whittamore Road and Murray Drive. The project will be completed by January, city officials say.
 
Dominion views the report as "good news for residents around the golf course," said Cathy Taylor, the company's director of electric environmental services. But some residents were hesitant to trust the report.
 
"I'm absolutely skeptical of that conclusion," said Robyn Pierce, a Murray Drive resident who lives near the course. "If they're thinking that at this time it has not leached, it's just a matter of time before it has leached. There's no doubt about that."
 
Chesapeake City Manager William Harrell called the report a "snapshot" of the current situation. "It does not predict the future impact," Harrell said. The city is conducting its own study.
 
The EPA is hosting an open house to explain its conclusion to residents May 6 and 7 at the Centerville Baptist Church.
 
Federal officials said Dominion will continue to monitor the golf course wells four times a year, submitting results to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
 
"If anything is migrating off site, then Dominion would pick it up in their results," said EPA spokesman Roy Seneca.
 
Over the p ast two years, the EPA has tested 22 wells on the golf course and 55 nearby residential wells. The federal agency paid about $155,000 to a contractor for that work, officials said.
 
The report acknowledged that well tests conducted on the golf course showed elevated levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants. But it also concluded that the contaminants found in the fly ash were not moving to nearby residential wells.
 
Lead detected in some of the residents' wells does not appear to have come from the fly ash, the report said. The EPA offered to further test those wells.
 
Lawyers for the residents declined Thursday to talk specifically about the report's effect on their lawsuit against Dominion and the golf course.
 
A judge is considering pretrial motions.
 
But the lawyers said the EPA report confirms what the Fentress Families Trust has been saying all along: that the aquifer beneath the golf course has been contaminated, and that nearby residential drinking wells eventually will be. "It's inevitable that this stuff will leach," Pierce said.
 
"We now have conclusive proof from the EPA that... this ash is not 'safe as dirt,' as was told to the community by Dominion in 2001," said Roy Mason, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "The last time I checked, dirt doesn't put arsenic, lead, all these chemicals into the water supply."
 
Dominion officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
 
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