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Duke Energy plugs leak of coal ash wastes into the Dan

SoVaNow.com / February 07, 2014
Five days after a pipe break caused what is believed to be the third-largest coal ash spill in U.S. history, Duke Energy announced Friday that it has plugged the leak into the Dan River at the site of its retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.

The spill, which turned the Dan a solid gray as far downstream as South Boston, dumped an estimated 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of slurry water into the river.

After days of struggling to cap a broken drain pipe running underneath the storage pond where coal ash was stored, Duke workers finally succeeded in recirculating wastes through the 48” pipe and back into the pond.

Earlier in the week, the rush of pollution had slowed to a trickle, partly the result of the ground collapsing around the underground pipe. Made of concrete and corrugated metal, it was built underneath the storage pond in the late 1960s, according to Duke’s historical records.

The break was discovered by a plant security guard on Sunday afternoon.

Duke revealed the accident to the public on Monday, after first informing government agencies of the breach on Sunday.

Around the same time Duke said it stopped the leaking of coal ash into the river, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources awaited more test results for heavy metal concentrations in the Dan, after obtaining generally positive results in initial testing earlier in the week.

A first round of tests, including to check for 17 metal types, was conducted by DENR’s Division of Water Resources on Monday and Tuesday. The tests turned up only one unusual reading, for elevated levels of copper, the department said Thursday. The department expected to receive more results Friday afternoon on heavy metal contaminants such as aluminum, selenium and boron.

“The Dan River does not have a clean bill of health,” said Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources. “We continue to monitor the situation and are especially concerned about the deposition of coal ash residuals in the sediments underlying the Dan River and how that could affect the long-term health of the river.”

The department said copper exceeded normal parameters on Monday and Tuesday, although levels dropped Tuesday. DENR said it will continue to monitor the waters of the Dan to see if further investigation is warranted.

The department conducted its testing at several sites with Duke Energy, owners of the Dan River Steam Station. The nearest of the samples was taken two miles downstream from the steam station. Other than higher-than-normal copper, the tests produced no findings out of the ordinary.

However, an environmental organization, the Waterkeeper Alliance, produced its own tests, verified by an independent laboratory, that showed sharply elevated arsenic levels in the Dan. The Alliance took its samples within sight of the release of coal ash from the Dan River Steam Station. Arsenic levels were nearly 30 times higher than normal, chromium levels were more than 27 times higher, and lead levels were more than 13 times higher because of the thick coal ash wastes flowing in the river, the organization said.


The arsenic readings by the Waterkeeper Alliance were 10 times higher than what Duke and North Carolina DENR found further downstream.

Dianne Reid, section chief for DENR’s environmental sciences section, said the data from the multiple sources aren’t necessarily in conflict: “Concentrations in the stream have decreased” as the river flows downstream. “It’s not surprising you’d get extremely high numbers at the discharge point, in a high concentration area.”

She said DENR will coordinate with other North Carolina, Virginia and federal agencies to assess the impact of the spill from a human health and habitat standpoint.

With municipal water systems in Danville and South Boston reporting no impact on the quality of drinking water from the flow of coal ash, government agency officials are trying to learn more about the degree of contamination of raw river water, and what it may mean for the Dan’s habitat.

“We’re talking with fish and wildlife [officials] and they’re helping us evaluate the impact on aquatic and water habitat creatures,” said Massengale.

DENR also is in contact with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess the potential impact on livestock that may drink out of the Dan.

“It is on our radar among the things we’re looking at,” she said.

In the wake of the spill, Duke Energy continued to come in for heavy criticism from environmental organizations. “If a terrorist group committed in North Carolina – for ideological reasons – a crime that Duke Energy has committed for profit, our nation would consider it an act of war against our country,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Duke could have avoided contaminating the Dan River and poisoning Virginia’s water supplies if it had removed its toxic ash heaps years ago after being warned by EPA.”

This story will be updated.

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Comments

Could someone please explain why a giant hole in the ground containing toxic coal ash had a drain pipe leading into our Dan River?
How many gallons have been intentionally released throughout the years to expand your holding capacity? How many gallons have unintentionally escaped throughout the years? I wonder why the river is polluted with mercury and pcb's?

Comments

I can just imagine Junior Samples being asked what he thought about that drain pipe and the pit location when everyone was standing around as it was built. Maybe something along these lines: “I don’t know fo sho but it seems to me yee might not art to put that drain pipe rite there, cause it mite leak. Aint jew gonna drink that there water? Yee might art to move that pit a lil further up dat hill."


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