Coal Ash Spill in North Carolina Threatens Dan River Water Supply

Wednesday, 05 Feb 2014 11:09 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A coal ash spill into North Carolina’s Dan River that started Sunday afternoon is reportedly still leaking after some 82,000 tons of coal ash potentially threatened drinking water supplies in surrounding areas.

Duke Energy, which owns the plant at which the spill occurred, blamed a broken storm water pipe for the coal ash spill that took place in Eden, N.C.

The power plant where the spill occurred had been closed in 2012 and has not produced new coal ash since then.

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According to a statement issued by Duke Energy, in addition to the coal ash itself, approximately 24 to 27 million gallons of basin water from a 27-acre coal ash reservoir had also spilled into the river. The energy company was able to put in place a temporary plug to reduce further spillage however the leak has yet to be fixed completely as of late Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Secretary John Skvarla went to the site on Tuesday. A day earlier, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were dispatched to the scene, the Associated Press reported.

Lisa Hoffmann, a Duke Energy spokeswoman, told the Los Angeles Times that downstream municipal water supplies had not been affected by the coal ash spill.

The closest such community to the spill is that of Danville, Va., which released a statement on its municipal website reassuring residents of the safety of their drinking water.

"All water leaving our treatment facility has met public health standards," Barry Dunkley, division director of water and wastewater treatment for Danville Utilities, said in the statement online. "We do not anticipate any problems going forward in treating the water we draw from the Dan River."

In North Carolina, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is reportedly testing samples of water taken both upstream and downstream from the spill to assess how much the coal ash has impacted the river’s water quality.

Coal ash is the residue byproduct of burning of coal and is said to contain a number of toxic heavy metals, including mercury and lead, CBS News noted.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2008 alone more than 136 million tons of coal ash was generated, making it one of the largest industrial waste sources in the U.S.

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