DAN RIVER: EPA reaches deal with Duke to clean-up coal ash - WNCN: News, Weather

EPA reaches deal with Duke to clean coal ash from Dan River

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

The Environmental Protection Agency will oversee the cleanup of the Dan River after a coal ash spill coated 70 miles of the waterway with toxic, gray sludge.

The EPA announced an agreement with Duke Energy Thursday to perform an assessment to locate and remove any coal ash deposits along the Dan River.

The EPA said it will consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on Duke's cleanup, and Duke Energy will be obligated to reimburse the federal government for its oversight costs. Duke is also ordered to reimburse all past EPA response costs associate with spill.

"EPA will work with Duke Energy to ensure that cleanup at the site, and affected areas, is comprehensive based on sound scientific and ecological principles, complies with all federal and state environmental standards, and moves as quickly as possible," said EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney.

Duke called the agreement "a significant milestone" in the company's "ongoing efforts to restore and monitor the Dan River and surrounding environment. "

"Duke Energy is fully committed to the river's long-term health and well-being. River water quality has returned to normal and drinking water has remained safe," spokesman Dave Scanzoni said Thursday in an email.

Scanzoni didn't immediately respond to questions about the EPA's statement in the agreement, which said that without the cleanup, the spill would continue to pose a "substantial threat to public health" and the environment.

Duke Energy crews immediately started working to push back the leftover ash in the pond when a pipe collapsed Feb. 2 at its retired Dan River Steam Station, but it took nearly a week to stop the spill, which dumped thousands of tons of coal ash into the river.

Earlier this month, the company began the process of vacuuming out three large deposits of ash found in the river. The largest deposit of ash found so far sits just above Danville's water intake. Duke estimates it's about 2,500 tons of ash -- 20 feet wide, 1 foot deep and as long as three football fields.

At full steam, the site can remove about 100 tons of ash each day. Once the ash is piled into lined containers, it is covered and hauled to the Upper Piedmont landfill in Person County.

North Carolina lawmakers are debating a measure about what to do with Duke's 33 ash dumps at 14 power plants in North Carolina, which are located along rivers and lakes that cities and towns rely on for drinking water. State environmental officials say all of Duke's unlined waste pits, which contain more than 100 million tons of ash, are contaminating groundwater.

Environmental groups are calling for Duke to be forced to remove the ash to lined landfills licensed to handle hazardous waste. Duke has agreed to remove ash from four sites, including the plant on the Dan River. But it has asked state officials for flexibility to consider other options at the other 10 sites, including leaving the ash in place cover with plastic sheeting and a layer of soil.

Coal ash, a byproduct left after coal is burned to generate electricity, contains toxic chemicals including lead, mercury and arsenic, which is known to cause cancer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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