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PA Orders Vast Impoundment Closed

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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The largest coal ash impoundment in the United States is officially on borrowed time.

On Thursday (April 3), the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that it had issued a Closure Permit to FirstEnergy Generation LLC, that imposes a mandatory closure plan for the Little Blue Run Impoundment. 

Little Blue Run
Sierra Club

The largest impoundment in the U.S., Little Blue Run has been filling with hundreds of tons of coal-ash waste since 1975. Federal regulators have deemed the impoundment dam a "high hazard" structure.

The plan will close, cap and mostly contain the largest unlined coal ash pond in the United States. DEP ordered the work completed by Dec. 31, 2028—three years earlier than FirstEnergy had proposed.

1,700-Acre Disposal Facility

The 1,700-acre impoundment, which spans two states (Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and borders a third, has served since 1975 as a disposal facility for coal combustion byproducts (CCBs) produced by the Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, PA.

The southwestern Pennsylvania power plant is the largest in the state and one of the largest in the United States, producing power for more than 1.5 million homes.

The waste stored at Little Blue Run, along the Ohio River, is about 60 percent lime-based scrubber agents and 40 percent blue-tinted coal ash. The impoundment is bordered by a 420-foot-high earth and rock fill dam, and the waste is pumped through a seven-mile-long pipeline system.

Little Blue Run

Little Blue Run is located near the Ohio River on both sides of the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border.

For the first 30 years, the CCBs were deposited below water. That changed in 2006, and capacity peaked at 135,430,000 cubic yards of material.

In a report in 2010, the Sierra Club, EarthJustice, and the Environmental Integrity Project documented how arsenic, cadmium, and lead were higher than permitted in drinking water around the massive dumpsite. The Center for Public Integrity has reported complaints of illness and drinking water contamination by nearby residents.

Consent Decree

DEP's closure order follows a December 2012 Consent Decree with FirstEnergy that set Dec. 31, 2016, as the last date that wet scrubber material could be dumped in the impoundment.

The agreement required FirstEnergy to provide a detailed plan for monitoring, sampling and abating any offsite seeping of arsenic and other contaminants in groundwater and soil. It also required that FirstEnergy look into minimizing the size of the impoundment's permanent pool and installing and maintaining a liner between the waste and the stormwater.

Bruce Mansfield Electric Power Plant
FirstEnergy Generation

Coal waste from the Bruce Mansfield power plant is carried to Little Blue Run via a seven-mile pipeline.

FirstEnergy submitted a 3,198-page Closure Plan in March 2013. That proposal laid out a 15-year plan that included:

  • Covering about 950 acres of waste with a synthetic liner;
  • Topping the cover with a foot of topsoil and seed to create a vegetation cover;
  • Reducing the 214-acre pool to 100 acres; and
  • "Extensive monitoring" throughout and after the closure.

State Changes

DEP's Closure Permit accelerates the overall closure timeline and specifies additional measures, including:

  • Increasing the groundwater and surface water monitoring points from 74 monitoring points to more than 300;
  • A cushion geotextile layer over the geomembrane liner;
  • Implementing controls for noise, odors and particulate emissions;
  • Conducting quarterly seep reconnaissance and instituting corrective actions when contaminated seeps are found; and
  • Pursuing groundwater remediation measures and conducting post-closure monitoring and maintenance "for as long as environmental problems remain at the site."

DEP also required, and FirstEnergy has posted, a bond of more than $169 million to cover the work. The agency said the bond was the largest ever for a waste management facility in the state.

'Strenuous and Thorough'

“The process to close the largest coal combustion waste disposal impoundment in the country was strenuous and thorough, involving citizens who provided numerous comments, DEP staff and FirstEnergy,” said Mike Forbeck, Waste Management Program Manager for DEP’s Southwest Region.


Tagged categories: Coal ash; Coal Combustion Residuals; Environmental Protection; Hazardous waste; Power Plants

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