Safety Standards

Safety Standards for Coal Ash Landfills

Current work suggests that negative effects of coal ash can be mitigated by ensuring landfills are:

  • Constructed well above the water table and without interrupting water flow
  • Lined with a COMPOSITE LINER
  • Mixed with a binding agent that keeps the ash from breaking down into toxic components
  • Continually monitored through both water and soil tests

What safeguards have been put in place to insure that toxic metals and other noxious substances in ash do not contaminate the area surrounding Cumberland Park?

Safety Requirement #1: SITE LOCATION

Research shows that coal combustion wastes should be kept away from water. Despite the fact that Cumberland Park resides in the 100 year flood plain of the New River, it was able to meet requirements because of “an earthen berm with an anchored reinforced vegetation system” (VA DEQ, Oct. 2007,, Get The Facts). A distance of 280 ft. from the river was deemed sufficient to insulate the river from groundwater movement and the invidious effects of the ash. The pictures below were taken during construction and filling of the site and document the conditions. As shown, water problems were substantial and persistent.

It also seems less certain than asserted that the area is “not a wetland” and “not within 100 feet of a stream” other than the New River.

WE were assured by those in charge of the Cumberland Park Project that water is not a threat to the site:

“Water is controlled at the Cumberland site. Even water that may pool after heavy rains is contained into settling ponds away from the building site itself. The level of engineering protects the site, which will be raised more than 12 feet above the plane when finished.” (Giles Cumberland Fact Sheet, Monday, Sept. 28, 2009)

Evidence here suggests otherwise!

Safety Requirement #2: LINERS

High-tech composite liners better contain dangerous fill materials and have now superseded clay as the lining material of choice. The pictures below show the surface of the landfill either unlined or covered with a porous geotechnical material (the type used for landscaping and gardens). The Partnership for Excellence stated that a composite liner would “cost too much”.

“The liner and wells would be required if this were a landfill holding ash. But this ash [in Cumberland Park] would be used as construction fill, which the EPA and VA DEQ classify as a “beneficial use” of a waste product.” (Tim Thornton, Roanoke Times November 22, 2007)

Chesapeake golf course built on1.5 million tons of fly ash

High levels of lead, arsenic found in wells near golf course

The Virginia Pilot, 7/18/2008,

  • “Well tests conducted on a golf course sculpted from 1.5 million tons of fly ash have revealed elevated levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants… the test results, based on average readings from three monitoring wells, found arsenic at eight times the drinking water standard and lead at more than five times the standard… “
  • “The developers were able to take advantage of state environmental regulations that encourage the recycling of fly ash as a beneficial use, as long as certain certifications are provided…”
  • “While groundwater wells and liners are required at a landfill on the grounds of Dominion’s Chesapeake plant, neither was required at the golf course under state rules.”

Safety Requirement #3: Binding Agent

  • Some common efforts to recycle coal ash, such as Portland cement, are successful because the ash is combined with binding agents as a natural part of the production process. When using coal ash as a fill material, adding binding agents is said to keep the ash from breaking down, thus preventing leaching of toxins. However, site selection in using ash as fill is of utmost importance.
  • While the Partnership refers to the coal ash as “structural fill”, it is important to remember that it is NOT talcum powder, NOR is it “melted dirt”, but instead it is toxic waste buried under soil.

Safety Requirement #4: Monitoring

  • Monitoring wells were placed at Cumberland Park by its developers at the request of Giles County Board of Supervisors, after Concerned Citizens raised concerns.
  • The Partnership stated that TCLP tests (Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure) conducted at a neighboring coal ash facility at Glen Lyn were “well below EPA standards”.
  • It is not clear how results from a Glen Lyn site could possibly relate to the Cumberland Park site, which is in the flood plain of New River and located east of Narrows, VA