FORT GIBSON — A recent complaint by a homeowner brought the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to a home near a fly ash dump site.
Fly ash at a dump north of Fort Gibson sparked concerns more than a year ago in the neighborhood surrounding the dump.
During the recent visit, ODEQ officials determined water bubbling up into a property owner’s yard and running down the hill is not fly ash contaminated.
“Fly ash has a ph level of at least nine, sometimes 10,” said Rick Austin, environmental programs manager for the North Eastern Region of ODEQ. “I tested this and it was about a 5, which is consistent with the ph level of Oklahoma soil.”
Austin used ph strips in a portable kit to test the water. He also walked around the property and across the street to the dump site property to try and determine where the water might be coming from.
Because the water is normal in ph, Austin said he does not think it’s welling up from caves or running across the ground over fly ash.
Homeowner Stephen Gilmore bought the property five years ago. He said he didn’t know at the time about the fly ash dump right across the street.
Though he’s glad the water streaming through his yard isn’t toxic according to ODEQ, he still has concerns.
“Fly ash isn’t something you just dump in your backyard without any concerns,” Gilmore said. “And that’s where I’m at right now. It’s basically dumped in the back yard like it’s dirt.”
The DEQ visited the dump site over the summer of 2010 several times because of complaints.
Those complaints were from people seeing trucks filled with fly ash driving up the roads with dust floating off them and big clouds of dust billowing up when the trucks were dumped.
Federal regulations require fly ash to be saturated with water and dumped in liquid form to prevent dust from blowing around.
Fly ash is a “coal combustion residual,” a byproduct of the combustion of coal at power plants, according to an Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet.
Such residuals contain contaminants like mercury and arsenic associated with cancer and other health effects, the fact sheet says.
Those contaminants can leach into groundwater and migrate to drinking water sources, posing significant public health concerns.
However, the neighborhood built around the fly ash dump area is on rural water, not wells.
In the spring of 2011, an anonymous person mailed a CD with video and photos to the Muskogee Phoenix.
The CD featured a video of a man dumping tan, powdery material and clouds billowing up in the air. That was forwarded to ODEQ.
Austin said Friday the ash seen billowing up was likely a coarser ash — not toxic and not required to be slurried before dumping.
“Most of the metals that are a problem are found in the fly ash,” he said.
Breathing fly ash and coming in contact with contaminated water concerns many who live near the site.
A complaint was made in late 2010 about the entrance to the dump below the mountain. The entrance is along U.S. 80, the road leading to Fort Gibson Dam.
That summer, passersby were seeing white, crusty water pooled at the entrance to the dumpsite — within 20 feet of the Grand River on the other side of the two-lane highway.
At that time, the ODEQ visited the site and said in a report that no major leaks were found. However, the substance on the driveway leading into the dumpsite there did test positive for selenium and chromium.
The DEQ required the dump site owners, LaFarge North America, to install three groundwater meters at the site.
LaFarge North America has never responded to requests for interviews to discuss the complaints.
However, Joelle Rockwood, communications director of LaFarge, sent an email with the following information in late 2010:
Fly ash dump site facts:
• The ash is dumped in old limestone mines, where approximately 25 acres of mine collapsed years ago.
• LaFarge Inc., has been dumping fly ash there since the late 1990s, though other companies dumped ash there for years prior.
• LaFarge Inc., does not own the property.
• The dump site is classified by Lafarge as a mine reclamation project.
• Lafarge mixes fly ash with water to create a slurry to pour in the mine collapse area.
• The fly ash solidifies into a concrete-like substance that stabilizes the area.
• In accordance with Lafarge’s policies and safety regulations, no one is permitted to be in the underground mine at Fort Gibson under any circumstance.
Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.