Pump issue to blame for possible coal ash in Waccamaw River, Santee Cooper says

Grainger Coal Ash Spill

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – New measures have been implemented to prevent pump malfunctions after soil from an empty coal ash pile at the old Grainger site in Conway made its way into the Waccamaw River.

Santee Cooper officials said a pump issue is to blame for the possible breach on Jan. 30.

“One of the pumps that was pumping overnight happened to pull up some soil. So, we just can’t promise that there wasn’t any coal ash in there that came from another part of the pond that was excavated yet,” said Tracey Vreeland with Santee Cooper.

Vreeland said the pump hit the soil because water levels dropped more than expected. The soil made its way through a permitted outfall and into the Waccamaw River.

“We have the results and the water is OK,” Waccamaw Riverkeeper, Cara Schildtknecht, said.

For the past few years, Schildtknecht has made sure the coal ash pile doesn’t harm the Waccamaw.

“We had this huge major flood event where this was expected. We thought this was definitely going to happen and we averted it. They did everything they could to stop that from happening and we did. Now this happens months later, and it was just a mistake,” Schildtknecht said.

There used to be 1.4 million tons of coal ash at the site and now there are only 45 tons, but that 45 tons could still be dangerous both to the environment and the community.

“Coal ash contains heavy metals that can be dangerous to humans and aquatic life. So, there’s stuff in coal ash that we really, really don’t want in our water,” Schildtknecht said.

Santee Cooper said they have sped up efforts to remove the coal ash and they’re hoping to finish before their 2020 goal.

“I’m happy that they’re expediting the process and getting it out so quickly. It’s been a long process. It’s still ongoing and we’re hoping it will happen sooner rather than later,” Schildtknecht said. “It’s something to keep in the back of your mind that we don’t want coal-fired power plants on our river banks, we don’t want coal on our river banks, we don’t want anything that could make us sick near our water.

Santee Cooper employee said they’re now adding rocks so if a malfunction happens again than those pipes would suck up rocks and not soil.

Copyright 2019 WMBF. All rights reserved.