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Basin association calls for cleanup on the Dan River

SoVaNow.com / March 03, 2014
Remove coal ash from the Dan River and its banks. This is the message from the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) to Duke Energy, Inc., and the governmental agencies responsible for ensuring the health and safety of our water supply.

On Feb. 2 near the City of Eden an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash stored in a lagoon beside the shuttered Dan River Power Station poured into the Dan River when a metal stormwater pipe collapsed. Polluted water continues to contaminate the river and groundwater through seeps and leaching from the bottom of the two unlined coal ash ponds. Coal combustion waste, or coal ash, is the residue from burning coal. The ash contains heavy metals at levels toxic to marine life and to all who consume river-dwelling creatures.

The North Carolina Department of Public Health has issued warnings to avoid contact with the downstream water and sediment and not to eat fish or shellfish from below the spill.

Although any creatures that lived on the bottom of the river were immediately killed, the poisons in fish, turtles, birds, and animals in or near the river accumulate over time and may not be apparent for months or years. Scientists are gathering fish from above and below the spill to study these long-term effects.

The Dan River Basin Association exists to preserve and promote the Dan River Basin’s resources. DRBA staff and partnering organizations have been monitoring the site and collecting data downstream since the day after the spill.

“We are heartbroken by this event. We know and love this river. We have already developed strategies to help the section of the Dan River that has been negatively impacted - and the entire region - recover,” says DRBA executive director Tiffany Haworth.

“DRBA will be here long after the lights and cameras have gone away continuing to do what we have done for over a decade.”

The city of Eden, Rockingham County, and DRBA have promoted the Dan River for recreation and tourism for nearly a decade, building river accesses and encouraging river-related businesses. Several outfitters now serve river users from North Carolina, Virginia, and other states, selling paddling gear and renting boats, tubes, and campsites. Vehicles carrying canoes and kayaks have become a common sight throughout the region. Although the Mayo, Smith, and Banister rivers, as well as all upstream miles of the Dan River, are unaffected by the spill, public perception of the entire area is tainted by this accident. Wake Forest University Professor Dennis Lemly, an expert on coal ash, estimates the long-term economic cost of the Dan River spill to be up to $700,000,000.

In North Carolina there are some 31 ash ponds at 14 sites owned by Duke Energy. In addition to the two impoundments at the Dan River plant, other coal ash lagoons in the Dan River Basin are located at Belews Creek in Stokes County and Mayo Lake and Roxboro in Person County.

For more information, and to learn how you can help, visit http://www.danriver.org.

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