MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- More than 50 West Virginia and Pennsylvania property owners are suing FirstEnergy over groundwater pollution, soggy yards and foundation damage they blame on a leaking coal ash impoundment and the 7-mile waste pipeline that feeds it.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Wheeling accuses the Ohio-based power company of negligence, reckless conduct, trespass and creating a nuisance. The plaintiffs demand unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
FirstEnergy had not formally received the complaint as of Monday afternoon, spokeswoman Stephanie Walton said in an email, but a closure plan for the unlined 1,700-acre Little Blue Run impoundment is under review by Pennsylvania regulators.
The planning and design work for a gradual shutdown of the facility straddling Beaver County, Pa., and Hancock County in the Northern Panhandle is already underway, she said.
The pit takes waste from the coal-fired Bruce Mansfield power plant in Shippingport, Pa., which is run by subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. The complaint says the pit holds more than 20 billion gallons of slurry, a soupy mix of combustion waste products.
The lawsuit -- filed last week -- also says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated the structure a "high hazard" impoundment, meaning a failure would likely result in fatalities. Some 50,000 people could be affected by a breach and flood.
The complaint says FirstEnergy is pumping arsenic, boron, selenium and other substances hazardous to humans into the pit in violation of a federal discharge permit and the Clean Water Act.
It also says monitoring by FirstEnergy and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has indicated the presence of arsenic in groundwater near the impoundment, and chlorides, sulfates and other substances in groundwater indicate that the impoundment is the source.
People who live near the site also say that the air has been fouled by the noxious odors of hydrogen sulfide gas, and that FirstEnergy has failed to address the problem despite multiple complaints from residents and notices of violation from the Pennsylvania DEP.
FirstEnergy has been cited so many times that its conduct should qualify as willful and reckless, the lawsuit says.