Coal Ash Pits in Shamokin Dam

The coal ash pits in Shamokin Dam near Routes 11 & 15 were mostly ignored until PennDOT recently began work on the lower section of the new Thruway and discovered that the pits were not as solid as they initially believed.  The route for the Thruway will have to be changed and probably impact more home and businesses.

What is Coal Ash?

“Coal ash is an abundant and dangerous by-product of burning coal for energy. Despite its hazardous characteristics, coal ash and other coal combustion wastes are not subject to federal regulation, and state laws governing coal combustion waste disposal are usually weak or non-existent.

Coal ash contains numerous hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, selenium, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, boron, thallium, and aluminum. When coal ash comes into contact with water, these hazardous materials leach out of the waste and contaminate groundwater and surface water. These substances are poisonous and can cause cancer and damage the nervous system or other organs, especially in children. EPA has identified over 600 coal ash sites and documented at least 67 proven or potential cases of surface water or groundwater contamination from coal ash in at least 23 states.” (From Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper site)

The ash pit ponds in Shamokin Dam are not lined, which means water can leach into groundwater.  They are also subject to overflowing in extreme storms, such as occurred in Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina in recent years.  The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is supposed to monitor the area, but with recent cutbacks, how often is this being done?

While the size of the pits in Shamokin Dam is smaller than some of the 26 other sites in Pennsylvania, it is among the most hazardous in the country. It is very expensive to remove and dispose of the ash, so utilities and states have resisted any efforts to clean them up, even though EPA requires states to have a plan for clean-up.  In some states, such as Tennessee, Virginia, & North Carolina, utilities have agreed or being sued to clean up the pits.  The Sierra Club and other groups are pressuring the owner of Brunner Island Power Plant which sits right in the Susquehanna River to stop pollution that has been leaching into the River for years.  The Little Bull Run site in Western Pennsylvania is considered one of the worst in the nation.

When these pits were created 40 years ago, the risk of major flooding that would overrun the pits seemed unlikely.  But as we now know, extreme weather can affect every area.  We encourage Snyder County residents and community leaders to learn more about this issue and to take action to Clean up the Ash Pits before there is a disaster.

There are numerous groups and publications with information coal ash pits.  Here are a selected few.

Earth Justice  – one of the most comprehensive sources on coal ash.  Has map showing the most hazardous sites, which includes Shamokin Dam.

Center for Media and Democracy – Source Watch – Coal

Clean Water Action

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper – Issues – Coal Ash

Sierra Club – Coal and Water

Coal Ash: The United States’ Multibillion-Ton Toxic Legacy

Coal ash: ‘Why in the world would we be importing It?’

Judge rules Dominion’s coal ash site pollutes Virginia water

TVA: Coal Ash Removal Would Take 24 Years