Coal ash is running out of the bottom of landfills and into groundwater, the Maryland Department of Energy said.
The state declared its intention to sue Mirant Mid-Atlantic, LLC, and Mirant Maryland ash Management, LLC, companies they say are responsible for the pollution.
Mirant operates coal-run electric generating plants throughout Maryland. The waste from these plants, called fly ash, is buried in several landfills, including the Westland disposal site in Montgomery County and the Faulkner disposal site in Charles County.
Samples collected in October of 2010 by the Maryland Department of the Environment in test wells drilled near these landfills revealed excessive amounts of selenium and chloride in ground and surface water. Testing has also found pollutants like arsenic, cyanide, mercury, and zinc was flowing into waterways in Charles County.
Excessive amounts of selenium can cause hair loss and blistering skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Exposure to mercury can cause damage to the nervous system.
The Federal Clean Water Act and Maryland state law mandate that landfills where ash is buried must be properly lined and capped to keep pollutants from leaking out.
The Maryland Department of the Environment said in a press release that although elevated levels of these substances have been discovered, residents living near the waste facilities are not in immediate danger.
Residents who live near the Westland, Brandywine, and Faulkner disposal sites should note that based on current and historical sampling data from on and around all three sites, ground and surface water contamination does not appear to pose an immediate risk to public health.
The department filed a similar lawsuit in April of 2010 for pollution violations in Brandywine, Maryland against the same companies.