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Third Worst Coal Spill in US History

Date: February 4, 2014 » posted by Waterkeeper Alliance » Comments: 1 Comment » Tags: , , , , , , ,

Duke Energy Responsible for Third Worst Coal Spill in US History

Waterkeepers Call for Closure of Toxic Coal Ash Waste Impoundments

Duke Energy's Dan River Steam Station shut down in 2012 but old coal ash ponds remain. When the infrastructure failed, coal ash poisoned the river.

Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station shut down in 2012 but old coal ash ponds remain. When the infrastructure failed, coal ash poisoned the river.

Eden, NC – Another huge coal ash spill has polluted a river and currently threatens public drinking water supplies. Late Monday afternoon Duke Energy reported that it spilled between 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. Coal ash is the waste left after burning coal in a power plant. Containing heavy metals and other toxic compounds such as arsenic, boron, chromium, selenium, mercury and lead, coal ash is a serious threat to aquatic ecosystems and local drinking water. To put the volume in perspective, the spill is the equivalent of 413 to 677 rail cars of toxic pollution poured into a public drinking water source.

The spill is located on a stretch of the Dan River between Eden, North Carolina and Danville, Virginia. Eyewitness sightings claimed the Dan River was “running black” yesterday. An estimated 22 million gallons of coal ash could already be in the Dan River moving downstream.

The map below tracks the toxic coal ash spill at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, NC when a storm water pipe under Duke’s ash ponds collapsed. An undetermined amount of highly toxic coal ash flooded through the pipe and into the Dan River 25 miles upstream of Danville, Virginia. Coal ash typically contains high concentrations of extremely dangerous substances including arsenic, lead, cadmium, cobalt, and mercury.

Neither Duke Energy nor any of the government regulators issued a press release to inform the public about this massive spill until 24 hours after it was discovered. Waterkeepers consider the delay in reporting the spill inexcusable, especially with the presence of drinking water intakes just a few miles downstream.

A security guard who noticed unusually low water in the ash pond at the shuttered coal plant lead to the discovery of the spill. This means most of the water had escaped and contaminated the river before anyone at Duke noticed.

Upon investigation, Duke discovered that a 48-inch storm water pipe underneath the unlined 27-acre, 155-million-gallon ash pond broke Sunday afternoon and drained tens of thousands of tons of coal ash and water into the Dan River.

This coal ash spill appears to be the third largest in U.S. history. In 2008, a billion gallons of ash slurry spilled at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Tennessee.

“After the Kingston coal ash spill, I sampled the river and found arsenic, lead, chromium and other metals 2 to 300 times higher than drinking water standards and the plume of coal ash stretched more than 20 miles,” said Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “The Dan River spill happened on Sunday and Duke Energy still has not reported the results of any water quality tests. This is unacceptable. Downstream communities need to know what pollutants Duke dumped into the Dan River.”

In 2009, an EPA technical report classified Duke’s 53-year old Dan River ash pond dams “significant hazard potential structures.” Field inspections found them leaking and their surface sliding.

Waterkeeper Alliance and our local Waterkeepers in North Carolina have filed legal action against Duke Energy over leaking coal ash ponds, which have been poisoning ground water and surface water across the Tar Heel state for decades. The State of North Carolina then sued Duke over ash handling at all of its North Carolina coal plants.

While utilities in South Carolina have settled Waterkeeper lawsuits and started cleaning uptheir leaking ash ponds, Duke has refused to responsibly address their ongoing contamination of public water supplies.

The Dan River coal ash spill is the latest in a series of wake-up calls about this mounting public health and environmental crisis.

Waterkeepers call on Duke Energy to put the safety of the public and our waterways first by closing all of their ash ponds before the next disaster happens.

For more information follow Waterkeeper on Twitter and Facebook or contact:

Blair FitzGibbon, 202-503-6141

Donna Lisenby, Waterkeeper Alliance, dlisenby@waterkeeper.org, (704) 277-6055

Pete Harrison, Waterkeeper Alliance, pharrison@waterkeeper.org, (212) 747-0622, ext. 132

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