Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Exploring the Area: An Alien Lake!?

I had an epic time swimming in Maine this past summer and have longed to recreate that bliss here in the Ohio valley. The options are extremely limited and the nearby place that first comes to mind is Tappan Lake. (Of course Lake Erie must be mentioned as it is epic but it doesn't apply in this case as it is a couple hours away.)

Tappan Lake is a reservoir created in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I think all of the nearby lakes that I've researched have turned out to be reservoirs created in the 20th century...

Tappan Lake

Here is the little town that was swallowed up by the Tappan reservoir.

Tappan town before the CCC

Tappan Lake does have a public beach in which people are allowed to swim, but I found that little swimming hole to be a dud. It was the quest for an epic place to swim that lead me to notice a strange, bright turquoise, and quite substantial body of water not too far up the river from us on the Pennsylvania border (many thanks to Google and their maps). 

Our little neck of the Ohio River
This isn't merely an unusual body of water, this would be freakish even for the Bahamas. I don't know if it is a secret tropical paradise or a piece of an alien world.

Exploring strange new worlds. . .

In contrast here is a little snippet of the Ohio River after scrolling a bit northeast in Google maps.

The Ohio River near Midland, PA

And here is a section of Tappan Lake not far from the public beach area.

Tappan Lake

Naturally this alien turquoise lake evidently devoid of life calls for investigation. And what is this strange web of pipes(?) that can be seen on the surface of the lake? Considering that this lake is comparable in size to Tappan, or any of the other recreational lakes around, why is it not so much as labelled? You would think that one of the larger bodies of water in the area would at least have a name. Why not a little beach and some surrounding state forest as well?

Just a couple of weeks ago we hiked along the edge of Beaver Creek which can be seen directly north of the mystery lake emptying into the Ohio River. If I had known of the existence of this lake I might have gone to check it out. Being an optimist I wondered at first if it might be some sort of interesting natural phenomenon such as a salt lake. Before too long I found myself thinking the worst: could this be an epic fly ash dump?

Beaver Creek meets the Ohio River just north of the blue thing.

The town to the west on the north side of the river is East Liverpool Ohio. Below that on the south side is Chester, West Virginia. To the east on the north side of the river is a tiny town called Midland, Pennsylvania.

Midland, PA
The majority of what you see in Midland is the steel mill, nothing unusual about that on the Ohio River.

J&L Specialty Steel, Midland, PA

Well now here is something of note: across the river from Midland is Shippingport, PA, most of which is the Beaver Valley Power Station containing two nuclear reactors as well as FirstEnergy's largest coal-burning power plant, the Bruce Mansfield Plant.

Midland, PA & Shippingport, PA

Beaver Valley Power Station - Shippingport, PA

Shippingport is also notable as being home to "the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses, (though the British Magnox reactor at Calder Hall was first connected to the grid on 27 August 1956, it also produced plutonium for military uses)."

The first atomic reactor (72 Mw) went online in 1957 and was closed in 1982. The first of the currently operational nuclear reactors, 852Mw, went online in 1976, and the second reactor has been operational since 1987. There were upgrades to both between 2000 and 2008. The image below reveals all of the currently operational nuclear power plants in the continental United States.
Operational Nuclear Power Plants

While there does appear to be a local myth that the blue lake, called Little Blue Run, was created by dumping water from the nuclear reactors, it is in fact a slurry dump for the Bruce Mansfield coal-fired plant.

Bruce Mansfield Plant

Bruce Mansfield Plant

According to the FirstEnergy environmental fact sheet the coal-fired plant is "a recognized showplace for environmental technology." 

The lake is not mentioned by name but this is no doubt speaking of it.

"A separate pollution control system is used to dispose of this slurry. It includes a treatment and pumping facility at the plant site, seven miles of underground pipeline and a 1,300-acre disposal site, complete with the largest earth and rockfill embankment dam in the eastern U.S."

The EPA has the Bruce Mansfield Plant on its list of High Hazard Surface Impoundments. What does this mean?

"A high hazard potential rating indicates that a failure will probably cause loss of human life; the rating is not an indication of the structural integrity of the unit or the possibility that a failure will occur in the future; it merely allows dam safety and other officials to determine where significant damage or loss of life may occur if there is a structural failure of the unit. EPA’s assessment of the facilities that have units with high hazard potential ratings continues to be an Agency priority. EPA plans to make public the results of our assessments as soon as they are completed."

Little Blue is thirty times larger than the fly ash pit responsible for the Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill that happened a couple years ago. "If it would break because of a 100 year rain it would wipe out East Liverpool, East End, Chester, lot of damage...

"It killed all the trees around here. There's not too much wildlife," Hysong said. "There's everything in this lake there's mercury, there's high levels of arsenic, thallium, you name it it's in the lake."

The fly ash monstrosity is bad enough but apparently the air quality isn't as pristine as FirstEnergy alleges in their PR literature.

"Currently, the plant is required to monitor air quality just one hour per week. McPhedran says the lawsuit seeks an order for continuous opacity monitoring. Other power plants in Pennsylvania have such monitors, but the DEP has not insisted that they be installed at Bruce Mansfield.
Records provided by FirstEnergy show that the Bruce Mansfield plant released harmful and illegal air pollution at least 257 times between November 22, 2002 and March 29, 2007, says McPhedran.
The plaintiffs want FirstEnergy to deal with lower level continuing violations as well as ending the major releases, which can be catastrophic.
On July 22, 2006, residents within a five mile radius of the plant were deluged with "black rain," which damaged homes, automobiles, crops, livestock and other vegetation and structures.
After the 2006 episode, Penn State University officials warned residents not to sell, butcher or eat livestock that had been exposed to the black rain, and farmers were instructed to throw away any crops or honey that had been exposed.
After that, FirstEnergy representatives purchased Hysong's garden for $600, he says, and he cut down all the fruit trees in his yard, lest his grandchildren become ill from eating the fruit."

Interestingly the Google Maps image is a few year old as I'm told that the lake is currently "dried up" meaning it is filled to capacity.

Little Blue a few years ago

Little Blue Run a couple years ago

Little Blue filling up
Little Blue is now all filled up

Too bad there is no secluded alien Bahamas in our vicinity, just an industrial waste heap that will soon be covered over with soil and grasses I imagine.

FirstEnergy denies water problems from Little Blue
Pennsylvania’s Little Blue Run Coal Ash Pit Among the Most Dangerous
Coal Ash Waste Dusts Neighborhoods
Little Blue Run: Is A Pennsylvania Coal Ash Facility Contaminating Water And Giving Residents Cancer?

If you want to get a better sense of the scale of Little Blue check out the following video. It is basically a thousand acre valley filled with toxic waste, over 400 feet deep in some places. I miss the lakes of Maine. . .


  1. Very interesting, and very sad....what can be done? :(

    ...so very happy you started a blog! Keep it going!

  2. Wow, thanks Patricia! You're the first follower and commenter of this blog. Win! What can be done? I really don't know, I'm a total noob when it comes to this topic. Maybe in the future I'll have something of that sort to post. :-D


  3. Super interesting blog - keep it coming!

  4. Man that water is just an eerie chemical blue... and all those blackened dead trees - I can't believe companies are allowed to pollute like this. So gross.

    On another note, your search for epic swimming locations reminded me of the most amazing time I ever had swimming. it was when we were camping a few years ago at Yosemite, the Wawona campground. The river runs right along the campsites, and when we were there the river was at its warmest (since its source is melting snow, that meant it was just bearable!!) so the kids and I jumped in, the water was crystal clear, we discovered a hanging rope swing to launch ourselves into the water - it was awesome. Oh, and it was ladybug season so the whole place was filled with them, it made the experience even more other-worldly. You've gotta go to Yosemite sometime!!

  5. Very interesting blog posting. Wish the lake had turned out to be something good, it looked so pretty from the Google view.

    Hope you find a great place to swim. When I was a kid we had the pond, which Dad used to clear out with the Caterpillar every year, and of course the river. That was a ton of fun, going swimming there.

    Keep up with your blog, Sean, you're off to an extremely promising start. Might I be so bold as to suggest you put up a widget for followers? That way interested people could follow and get a notice when you update your blog.

  6. Hey Sean,

    I was just talking with someone about this very place or one like it very recently. I think that the unnaturally bright color is due to chemicals that are added to reverse the acidity of the coal ash. Of course they probably over did it a bit and made the water basic. (Like that green water to the South of 22 between Steubenville and Pittsburgh; that is mine water run-off where they did over compensate. Acidic water is orange.)

    This "lake" (or the one like it) was sold to the locals as a place that would be good for recreation. Somebody was not thinking and assumed that coal ash just lies dormant in water (???).

    While the Ohio is icky in its own way, it is definitely a red flag when water appears bluer than the sky - at least in the OH valley.

    Awesome post.


  7. I remember when Little Blue was created back in the 1970's on the Chester, West Virginia side. I have always had a bad feeling about Little Blue. Especially with it being so close to the Ohio River, residences' water sources and the area's overall water table. With the high numbers of different types of cancers and Leukemia in the area, I am surprised it has taken this long for "REAL" concern. I moved away from the area back in 1975, but still get an unsettling feeling when driving by the "Little Blue" area.

  8. I live on that hill that little blue is on. It is currently being filled with that toxic blue crap as we speak. So sad seeing all the beautiful houses on that hill that Bruce Mansfield plant has been buying out due to damages and expansion.