Waterkeepers Identify Multiple CAFO and Coal Ash Spills Following Hurricane Florence


Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups across North Carolina have identified multiple releases of pollution from industrial animal operations and coal-fired power plants as a result of flooding from Hurricane Florence.

Staff from Waterkeeper Alliance, Sound Rivers, Haw Riverkeeper, and French Broad Riverkeeper discovered multiple releases of coal ash from inundated ponds at Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee coal-fired power plant near Goldsboro, NC. Water samples from today’s investigation are expected to be analyzed within the week.

“Today we investigated, documented and collected water samples from multiple ongoing, active coal ash spills from HF Lee facility where 1 million tons of coal ash is now completely underwater. Half-mile Branch creek and the Neuse River flood waters are actively eroding the dam between the ponds and all three ponds are washing coal ash into the Neuse River,”  said Donna Lisenby, Global Advocacy Manager for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Coal ash will continue spilling every minute of every day from the HF Lee coal ash ponds until flood waters recede sometime later this week.”

Waterkeeper Alliance and Upper Neuse Riverkeeper discovered a similar coal ash release at the plant following flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Conditions at Lee are worse than they were in 2016.

“Yet again, the Neuse River is experiencing an ongoing coal ash spill. This not just an environmental concern, it is a concern for downstream communities as well, including Goldsboro which has a water intake less than 10 miles downstream,” said Matt Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper. “Like during Hurricane Matthew, Duke Energy has made inaccurate statements.  The tree cover is not preventing coal ash from being eroded and spilled into the Neuse River. Duke should have learned from Hurricane Matthew that the contents of these coal ash ponds need to be excavated and removed from the banks of the Neuse River, in order to protect our river and communities.”

Additionally, Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette discovered two breached hog lagoons, with their contents completely emptied, and dozens of inundated lagoons across the Cape Fear River Basin.

According to Burdette, “These cesspools of hog waste failed completely, spilling millions of gallons of untreated hog waste into floodwaters. Even worse, these contaminated waters will flow through communities downstream, threatening homes, churches, schools, and anything else in their path.”

Our partners at Environmental Working Group estimated, based on geospatial analysis, that two lagoons contained more than 7.3 million gallons of untreated swine waste. The larger cesspool stored more waste than was discharged by the spill of partially treated wastewater from the Southside Wastewater Treatment plant near Wilmington in the wake of Hurricane Florence. And, North Carolinians have seen significantly larger volumes of swine waste from a single lagoon breach, including the notorious discharge of more than 25 million gallons from a breached lagoon at Oceanview Farms in 1995.

Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups in the Carolinas are documenting the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Video and images are updated daily and are available here for download.

The Waterkeeper Alliance Rapid Response initiative provides trusted and independent information following disasters on our waterways. In a climate of lax federal regulations and budget cuts to state departments of environmental conservation, the need for Waterkeeper Organizations and Waterkeeper Affiliates to speak truth about the devastating impacts of water emergencies on communities has never been greater. Waterkeeper groups will remain involved as long as necessary in order to assure that proper clean-up, mitigation, and enforcement is completed.


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