Economic impact from Dan River spill could exceed $70 million - WNCN: News, Weather

Economic impact from Dan River spill could exceed $70 million

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EDEN, N.C. -

Health officials are still warning the public that the Dan River is still not safe.

Clean up and water testing continues three weeks after an estimated 35 million gallons of coal ash spilled in to the river along Duke Energy's site in Eden.

Of the 28 metals for which the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources is testing near the coal ash spill, iron and aluminum are the two metals at or above surface water quality standards.

The state says some initial water quality samples taken downstream of the spill site showed higher than allowed levels of arsenic, iron, aluminum and copper. DENR says subsequent tests taken at the same sites have shown that neither arsenic nor copper exceed surface water standards.

DENR also says iron and aluminum have been high in historic water quality sampling conducted prior to the coal ash spill and are naturally occurring in soils in North Carolina.

The state is still waiting on test results from the fish in the Dan River. 

The state is still warning the public to avoid eating the fish and prolonged exposure to the water.

The overall cost for the clean up is still being totaled but Duke Energy says they will take responsibility for it and tells WNCN that customers will not foot the bill.

But aside from clean-up, many are starting to wonder what the overall economic impact this spill will have on the region.

Dennis Lemly, a professor at Wake Forest University, has studied the effect of coal ash on the environment for years.

Based on his research, he says the overall economic impact from the spill could exceed $70 million.

Lemly says there are many factors that go into that estimate including the decline of property values along the spill site, the fish who will leave the 80-mile stretch of river that has been contaminated, the wildlife that may die from the coal ash, and the impact the spill will have on fishing and recreational use of the Dan River.

He estimates a basic starting point for overall cost to the region is about a million dollars per contaminated mile.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it's specifically concerned about the two endangered species living in the Dan River.

The river is home to the Roanoke Log Perch and the James Spiny Mussel. The coal ash could harm them and cause them to leave the river, according to the service.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory has given Duke Energy until March 15 to provide a detailed plan of action for all of their coal ash sites.

Jonathan Rodriguez

Jonathan Rodriguez is an investigative reporter and member of the WNCN Investigates team. His storytelling specialty is connecting the dots to get to the truth, with a goal of delivering results for our community. If you have something you’d like WNCN to investigate, contact Jonathan.

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