C and O Canal and Potomac River

A new lawsuit filed against the city of Alexandria claims that the city has been polluting the Potomac River for decades.

As reported by WTOP, the lawsuit has been filed by the Potomac Riverkeepers Network, a nonprofit organization that aims to keep water in the Potomac clean from pollution, and claims that claims the city’s stormwater runoff system is allowing coal tar and creosote wastes to contaminate the Potomac River in violation of the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation Recovery Act. In a study, the group determined the waste, which originates from a gas plant that closed 75 years ago, has been discharged into the Potomac since at least 1975.

According to a news release, the group is seeking a court order to make Alexandria stop “the continued discharge of coal tar and creosote wastes and to characterize and remediate the full extent of the contamination it created in the Potomac River.”

“The City’s effort to eliminate these discharges has been too slow, too limited, and has failed to stop the imminent and substantial danger,” said Dean Naujoks, a Potomac Riverkeeper involved in the investigation.

Pollution in the river has been on the city’s radar for decades, but even the city government admits the issues been tough to tackle. A manufactured gas plant near the corner of North Lee and Oronoco Streets operated from 1851 to 1946. It provided heat and light to area businesses and residents, but also emitted coal tar and creosote wastes into the soil and groundwater. After the plant was demolished, the city redeveloped the site in the mid-1970s and installed a stormwater pipe. But — similar to other manufactured gas plants — contaminated runoff has infiltrated into the storm sewer and then gets deposited into the Potomac via the outfall.

“The City has taken numerous measures to prevent further discharges of plant-related wastes into the river. However, the extent and complexity of the problem has made the development of an effective and lasting solution a difficult challenge,” according to a city website on contaminated lands.

spokesperson for Alexandria told DCist.com on Monday that city staff is reviewing the lawsuit.

“The city is surprised by the PRKN’s action because Alexandria has worked very closely with both the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the PRKN on the city’s efforts to remediate the remnants of contamination that occurred at this site,” she told DCist.com.

The lawsuit appears to be an attempt to speed up Alexandria’s clean up process, as the complaint in their lawsuit says the disposal is contributing to “imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.”