DAN RIVER: Coal ash spill into NC river still not contained - WNCN: News, Weather

Coal ash spill into NC river still not contained

Posted: Updated:
Workers survey a coal ash spill in the Dan River. Workers survey a coal ash spill in the Dan River.
ON THE DAN RIVER, N.C. -

Canoe guide Brian Williams dipped his paddle downstream from where thousands of tons of coal ash has been spewing for days into the Dan River, turning the wooden blade flat to bring up a lump of gray sludge.
    
On the river bank, hundreds of workers at a Duke Energy power plant in North Carolina scrambled to plug a hole in a pipe at the bottom of a 27-acre pond where the toxic ash was stored.
    
Since the leak was first discovered by a security guard Sunday afternoon, Duke estimates up to 82,000 tons of ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water has spilled into the river. Officials at the nation's largest electricity provider say they cannot provide a timetable for when the leak will be contained, though the flow has lessened significantly as the pond has emptied.
    
An Associated Press reporter canoed downstream of the spill at the Dan River Steam Station and saw gray sludge several inches deep, coating the river bank for miles.
    
Williams, a program manager with the Dan River Basin Association, worried that the extent of the damage might not be fully understood for years.
    
"How do you clean this up?" he said, shaking his head as he churned up the ash with his paddle. "Dredge the whole river bottom for miles? You can't clean this up. It's going to go up the food chain, from the filter feeders, to the fish, to the otters and birds, to people. Everything in the ecosystem of a river is connected."
    
Environmental regulators in North Carolina say they are still awaiting test results to determine if there is any hazard to people or wildlife. Coal ash is known to contain a witches' brew of toxic chemicals, including lead, arsenic, mercury and radioactive uranium.
    
Twenty miles downstream from the spill site and across the state line in Danville, Va., wary fishermen watched ash swirl in the water. A hand dipped into the water came out coated slate gray.
    
Municipal officials in Danville there say they are successfully filtering out contaminates in the drinking water for the city of about 43,000 people.
    
Meanwhile, officials in Virginia Beach, Va., announced they had stopped drawing water from Lake Gaston, a major reservoir fed by the Dan.
    
Personnel from Duke Energy and an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, traveled the river in motorboats Wednesday, collecting water and sediment samples. A command center has been set up at the power company's facility in Eden.
    
An EPA spokeswoman did not respond to questions Wednesday, including when the test results on the samples collected by the agency would be made public.
    
Environmentalists and government regulators have been warning for years that the 31 ash ponds at Duke's power plants in North Carolina had the potential for calamity, especially after a similar pond in Kingston, Tenn., burst open in 2008.
    
"Even without a spill, these settling ponds have been releasing continuous contamination into the rivers downstream from coal-fired power plants," said Avner Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry at Duke University, which was named for the same family that founded the power company.
    
Duke Energy officials have always insisted the ponds at its facilities were well-engineered and safe. At the Dan River plant, the waste pond was expanded more than 40 years ago over an older storm water drainage pipe. That pipe, which empties into the river, collapsed without warning sometime last weekend, draining the pond above.
    
Though the coal-fired turbines at the Dan River facility were shut down in 2012 and replaced with an adjacent plant fueled by natural gas, the company had no firm plans for when and how to clean up the ash ponds.

  • Coal Ash SpillMore>>

  • Environment group says public 'mislead' to think Dan River is clean

    Environment group says public 'mislead' to think Dan River is clean

    Friday, July 18 2014 2:06 PM EDT2014-07-18 18:06:07 GMT
    Waterkeeper Alliance says photos show coal ash is still present in the Dan River. (Waterkeeper Alliance)Waterkeeper Alliance says photos show coal ash is still present in the Dan River. (Waterkeeper Alliance)
    Waterkeeper Alliance provided photos it says show deposits of coal ash still in the Dan River despite claims to the contrary.
    Waterkeeper Alliance provided photos it says show deposits of coal ash still in the Dan River despite claims to the contrary.
  • NC, Va. groups to monitor coal ash in Dan River

    NC, Va. groups to monitor coal ash in Dan River

    Friday, July 18 2014 9:59 AM EDT2014-07-18 13:59:45 GMT
    A collapsed pipe at Duke Energy's Dan River Steam Station dumped coal ash into the Dan River.A collapsed pipe at Duke Energy's Dan River Steam Station dumped coal ash into the Dan River.
    Two water protection groups will continue to monitor the Dan River to identify coal ash from a massive spill in North Carolina that flowed into Virginia.
    Two water protection groups will continue to monitor the Dan River to identify coal ash from a massive spill in North Carolina that flowed into Virginia.
  • Feds: Duke Energy has finished moving coal ash from Dan River

    Feds: Duke Energy has finished moving coal ash from Dan River

    Thursday, July 17 2014 3:03 PM EDT2014-07-17 19:03:48 GMT
    Duke has dredged up about 2,500 tons of ash and contaminated sediment, as well as another 500 tons that had accumulated in settling tanks at downstream municipal water treatment plants.
    Duke has dredged up about 2,500 tons of ash and contaminated sediment, as well as another 500 tons that had accumulated in settling tanks at downstream municipal water treatment plants.
  • Trending StoriesTrending StoriesMore>>

  • DOT fixes sign for new 485 flyover that spelled Pineville wrong

    DOT fixes sign for new 485 flyover that spelled Pineville wrong

    Friday, July 25 2014 1:40 PM EDT2014-07-25 17:40:30 GMT
    Thursday morning the Department of Transportation officially opened a ramp from Johnston Road to I-485. The flyover ramp opened around 5:15 a.m.
    Thursday morning the Department of Transportation officially opened a ramp from Johnston Road to I-485. The flyover ramp opened around 5:15 a.m.
  • 2 charged with first-degree murder in beating death of UNC professor, cancer researcher

    2 charged with first-degree murder in beating death of UNC professor, cancer researcher

    Friday, July 25 2014 9:00 AM EDT2014-07-25 13:00:14 GMT
    A UNC research professor was robbed and beaten to death Wednesday afternoon on University Drive in Chapel Hill, police said.
    A UNC research professor was robbed and beaten to death Wednesday afternoon on University Drive in Chapel Hill, police said.
  • VIRAL VIDEO: If you own a dog, prepare to happy cry

    If you own a dog, prepare to happy cry

    The video says it all.
    The video says it all.
Powered by WorldNow

1205 Front St., Raleigh
N.C., 27609

Telephone: 919.836.1717
Fax: 919.836.1687
Email: newstips@wncn.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.