State sues Mirant over fly ash

The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Department of the Environment has filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta-based Mirant power company for allegedly allowing polluted water and heavy metals to escape from a fly ash landfill in Southern Maryland.

The suit, filed by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler on Friday in Charles County Circuit Court, seeks millions in penalties and an end to coal ash dumping at the 38-year-old old Faulkner landfill. The state also wants to stop the flow of pollutants from the site.

"Zekiah Swamp is one of the most significant ecological areas in the Chesapeake Bay watershed," the suit from the Maryland Department of Environment reads. "Defendants have constructed passive treatment systems ... but such treatment systems have failed ... contaminating ground waters of the state."

The action follows notice of a civil complaint filed in April against Mirant by two environmental groups, the Environmental Integrity Project and Potomac Riverkeeper. They alleged that toxic pollutants such as selenium and lead pouring from the landfill into a tributary to Zekiah Swamp violated water quality standards 12,677 times in 2006 and 2007.

Fly ash is waste, often laced with mercury, arsenic, chromium and other potential carcinogens, that is caught in the filters of coal-fired power plants. The Mirant-owned Morgantown Power Plant in Charles County produces about 150,000 tons of waste ash each year that is trucked to the 950-acre Faulkner landfill east of U.S. 301 and then buried. The dump has received millions of tons of waste ash since it opened in 1970.

A spokesperson for Mirant was not immediately available.

Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said he thinks it's "great" that the state is taking legal action. "When you see a violation like this, the first line of enforcement is the state - the state of Maryland needs to go after Mirant and make them clean up," Schaeffer said.

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