PA DEP Completes Enhanced Inspections of 42 Coal Facilities, No Major Structural Problems Found

September 3, 2009

Inspections Ordered in Wake of Tennessee Ash Spill

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — DEP dam safety inspectors found no major structural problems during enhanced inspections of 42 coal ash, slurry and waste impoundments around the state, Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger reported today.

Hanger ordered the inspections to ensure the structures are being maintained and operated safely and in compliance with Pennsylvania’s dam safety regulations following the sudden collapse of two coal ash impoundments in Tennessee last December. The accident flooded nearby homes and fouled miles of waterways and several hundred acres of farmland.

“Pennsylvania has one of the most comprehensive dam safety programs in the country, with strict regulations for the construction, inspection and maintenance of these structures, and a program of regular inspections for dams that could endanger lives and property in the event of a failure,” Hanger said. “I ordered that these enhanced inspections in addition to regularly scheduled inspections for Pennsylvania’s coal ash and other waste impoundments so that we can reassure the public that these facilities are being monitored and maintained in good condition.”

Under Pennsylvania law, dams and impoundments that could endanger downstream residents in the event of collapse are classified as “high-hazard” dams and must be inspected annually by a professional engineer hired by the owner. In addition, these dams are inspected annually by a DEP dam safety inspector. High hazard dam owners must create and maintain a current emergency action plan that provides a blueprint for the dam operator and local and county emergency management officials to respond to structural or other problems at the dam.

In January, DEP began conducting inspections of 10 coal ash basins that were large enough to require dam permits and a Westmoreland County dam that contains chemical sludge. Those inspections revealed that the dam inspection reports were up to date and that no significant structural problems were evident at these impoundments.

The department recently completed inspections of 31 additional impoundments, most of which contain coal slurry. Although some common maintenance issues were noted at some dams, no serious structural or operation problems were discovered. The department is currently reviewing the inspection reports and will assist dam owners with correcting any potential safety or structural problems that may be identified.

In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting independent inspections of coal ash storage facilities nationwide and will inspect three small coal ash basins at the Bruce Mansfield power plant in Beaver County and the coal ash basins at the Martins Creek power plant in Northampton County. DEP dam safety inspectors will accompany EPA on these inspections.

DEP regulates approximately 3,200 dams in Pennsylvania.

For more information on coal ash impoundments, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: “Coal Ash.”

    Tom Rathbun
    (717) 787-1323

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Source: newswire

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