Alabama's Department of Environmental Management proposes fining Alabama Power Co. $250,000 after groundwater near a coal ash pond at the Gadsden power plant in Etowah County, Ala., had high levels of arsenic and radium.
The Southern Co. subsidiary on May 2 submitted data from groundwater monitoring tests to the state agency, known as ADEM, indicating that the utility "has caused or allowed the unpermitted discharge of pollutants" from the wastewater of the Gadsden coal ash pond into groundwater, according to an order proposed by the department. Alabama Power faces the maximum fine ADEM can propose in a single order.
If the order is issued, Alabama Power would have to submit a schedule for a comprehensive groundwater investigation, measures to fix the issue and their findings "evaluating any deficiencies at the facility" that may have led to the contaminated groundwater, ADEM director Lance R. LeFleur said in a May 17 notice.
The Gadsden plant's two units were converted from coal to natural gas in 2015 to comply with a mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The plant's coal ash pond was closed in 2018 after Alabama Power announced in 2016 it would close the Gadsden pond and 11 others.
In 2018, ADEM fined Alabama Power $1.25 million after finding that five coal-fired plants contaminated groundwater.
Alabama Power said it has examined conditions at the plant and based on its evaluations to date, none of its results detected any potential risks to neighbors, nearby waterways or water sources. Local water utility Gadsden Water Works has also tested water quality in the nearby Coosa River and found no indication of any issues with its drinking water sources.
"We will be conducting additional monitoring and assessment, in coordination with ADEM, to determine whether any corrective actions may be necessary," Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said in an email to S&P Global Market Intelligence. "The information from the additional assessments will be submitted to ADEM for its review."