A pair of families living near Dominion Energy’s Possum Point power station in Dumfries have filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the utility giant, claiming discharges from the company’s five coal ash ponds at the site contaminated their drinking wells and destroyed their property values.
Dan and Patty Marrow have long claimed that the ash ponds — which hold millions of tons of the waste material generated when the power plant once burned coal — have leaked toxic heavy metals into the area’s groundwater, plaguing them with a series of medical maladies and forcing them to pay $40,000 to connect to municipal water lines.
Now, they’re joining with one of their neighbors, Brian West, to sue Dominion in Prince William County Circuit Court, alleging that there’s been “a continuous discharge of coal ash-contaminated water” from those ponds, “which has then contaminated nearby potable wells, property and soil.” Dominion’s been draining those ponds of water in an attempt to consolidate five ponds into one and permanently bury the coal ash on the property — the company is seeking a permit from state regulators to proceed with that process, but the General Assembly recently approved a moratorium on that process through May 2018.
In the suit, the Marrows are seeking $6 million in compensatory damages, reimbursement for the thousands they’ve spent on a new water supply and tests of the area’s groundwater, and even an injunction to force Dominion to “properly maintain and restore the power station to prevent [any] further discharge of coal ash-laden water.” West makes similar demands in his suit, though he’s seeking only $3 million in compensatory damages.
Dan Marrow says he’s been concerned about contamination from the ash ponds since December 2015, as his entire family started experiencing health problems. He describes feeling “dizzy all the time, like I’m on a merry-go-round,” while he says his wife has seen her cholesterol spike to levels that “doctors say they’ve barely ever seen before.”
Though they’ve seen some of those issues subside since switching to a private water source in February 2016, he says he’s suing in the hopes of securing enough money to move out of a home that he once planned to live in for the rest of his life.
“We just don’t feel safe anymore...so it’s time to put it down in black and white for them,” Marrow said in an interview. “I’m not looking to get rich over this. I’m just looking to be compensated so we can buy another house, and my kids can have some insurance.”
Rob Richardson, a Dominion spokesman, wrote in an email that the company is “aware” of the lawsuits, but notes that “the company has not yet been formally served and does not have any further comment at this time.”
The Possum Point residents’ claims primarily center around Dominion’s decision to release 27.5 million gallons of untreated water from one of the ash ponds into Quantico Creek in May 2015. That water flowed into a “beaver pond” between the Marrows’ property and the ash ponds, eventually flowing into Quantico Creek — an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency into that decision is still ongoing, though Dominion representatives claim that discharge was within standards set by a state permit governing the process.
Attorneys for the families write that Dominion “knew or should have known” that discharge “was migrating into plaintiffs’ drinking water, supply, property and soil.” They argue this amounts to trespassing on the properties, and permanently harming their values.
They go on to argue that Dominion has allowed “continued releases and discharges” from the ash ponds, which they believe amounts to “negligent and reckless management and storage of coal ash.”
They believe the utility “failed to warn the plaintiffs” about the risks associated with these releases, and cite private tests of well water showing elevated levels of metals like barium, boron, cobalt, copper, lead and nickel as evidence that the ash ponds haven’t been properly maintained. The company claims it’s never recorded any instance of contaminants flowing off its property, though environmentalists challenge that assertion by pointing to evidence that Dominion’s found heavy metals in tests of the property’s groundwater for years now.
The utility also recently decided to revamp its treatment system for water released from the ponds, and offered to pay to connect people living near the plant to public water lines. Marrow views the latter decision as “an admission of guilt” by the company that the area’s water isn’t safe to drink, which he hopes will bolster his case in court.
He takes heart that state lawmakers and Prince William County supervisors have both taken steps in recent months to push back against the company’s plans to close the ponds, and he thinks a jury may feel similarly moved by his family story, should the case ever get that far. But he’s mostly hoping to earn some sort of settlement from the company, so he can start to move on.
“I spent years building that house, and I never planned on moving,” Marrow said. “But our lives are on hold because of this, and I’m tired of waiting.”