Inflatable dam holds back coal ash from polluting the flooded Waccamaw River
Santee Cooper says it accidentally pumped sludge from an ash pond in Conway into the Waccamaw River in late January.
The company is in the process of excavating thousands of tons of toxic ash from the demolished Grainger Generating Station, but a pump meant to keep water out the pond ended up dumping sediment into the river, according to Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore.
Gore said the incident happened overnight Jan. 30 when the pump wasn’t being monitored, though she noted the pump was in a part of the pond where ash already has been removed.
Santee Cooper immediately notified stakeholders, including the City of Conway and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, Gore said, and conducted a test of the river water that concluded there was no environmental impact.
DHEC was notified Jan. 31 of the discharge and responded on-site to assess and monitor the situation, according to department spokeswoman Laura Renwick, who confirmed water testing indicated no environmental or health impact.
The company will increase its monitoring of pumps and added a layer of stone below the pump to help prevent a similar occurrence, Gore said.
About 50,000 tons of coal ash remains in the Conway pond, according to Gore, who pointed out that Santee Cooper has accelerated its excavation efforts since flooding from Hurricane Florence.
The pond contained about 200,000 tons of coal ash when flood levels on the Waccamaw River reached historic levels, forcing Santee Cooper to take extensive measures, including round-the-clock monitoring and bringing in inflatable barriers, to prevent a breach.
Gore did not have an exact timeline for when the rest of the coal ash will be removed, but said the company is hopeful of completing the excavation before another hurricane hits the area.