Samples show high levels aluminum, iron upstream of coal ash - WNCN: News, Weather

Samples show high levels aluminum, iron upstream of coal ash spill

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Water quality samples taken from the Dan River upstream of last month's coal ash spill show that aluminum and iron levels exceed water quality standards, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Friday.

DENR spokeswoman Susan Massengale said the samples were taken not far from the spill.

"What this tells us is we have historically occurring aluminum and iron in our sediment," Massengale said.

In other words, the Dan River has higher levels of aluminum and iron than normal, even away where the spill happened.

The latest results were taken from water where residents saw orange-colored rocks upstream of the coal ash spill.

The latest state test results come from samples collected in February. Aluminum exceeded state surface water quality standards Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, and iron exceeded state surface water standards on Feb. 26 but not Feb. 27. Other levels of other metals from water at the same upstream location were within state guidelines.

The orange staining is usually indicative of iron bacteria growing on the rocks fed by the high iron content of the discharge, said Dianne Reid, chief of the state's Water Sciences Section. Aluminum and iron are common in sediments throughout the Dan River basin.

Most of the state's samples have been collected downstream of the spill site, where it would be more likely to see impacts from the coal ash spill, said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources. But division staff decided to collect samples at this location after citizens reported the discharge over these orange-colored rocks.

"What we're seeing is that this discharge is not causing a violation of state water quality standards for arsenic or other constituents that are key ingredients to coal ash," Reeder said. "We will continue to evaluate this outfall and others as part of the detailed inspections we are conducting of the Dan River site and Duke Energy's other coal-fired power plants statewide. Information we collect from our statewide inspections, including water quality sampling, will help determine the most appropriate actions moving forward."

State officials also collected water samples directly from the same stormwater discharge before it reached the Dan River. Those test results from samples collected Feb. 14 and Feb. 17 show elevated concentrations of aluminum, arsenic and iron. Results from Feb. 14 show elevated zinc as well. Test results from water collected coming directly from the discharge Feb. 26-27 show elevated arsenic and iron.

"What we're seeing is that once the discharge is diluted by the river water, it's within state surface water standards," Reeder said. "Federal discharge permits include dilution as a factor in determining acceptable discharge levels."

Massengale said DENR will continue test fish, both as fillets as humans eat, and as whole fish, as animals would eat.

"So we will track over time to see if there are any affects from the sediment on the food chain," she said.


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