DENR orders Duke to plug second coal ash leak immediately

Posted February 18, 2014

Coal ash

— State environmental regulators on Tuesday ordered Duke Energy to immediately halt discharges from a leaking stormwater pipe at a shuttered power plant in Eden where a rupture in a second pipe led to a massive spill of coal ash in the Dan River two weeks ago.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued the order after tests showed elevated levels of arsenic in the river near the discharge. The results are a key indicator of the presence of coal ash, officials said.

"Given what we’ve seen, we’re concerned that this second stormwater pipe on site may also be leaking water contaminated with coal ash pollutants into the Dan River,” Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources, said in a statement. “As such, we are ordering Duke Energy to eliminate this unauthorized discharge immediately."

DENR will factor the new discharge into any enforcement action taken because of the coal ash spill, officials said.

Federal officials said Tuesday that toxic coal ash has coated the bottom of a North Carolina river as many as 70 miles downstream of the Eden power plant.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advised that a pile of coal ash about 75 feet long and as much as 5 feet deep has been detected on the bottom of the Dan River near the site of the Feb. 2 spill. Deposits varying from 5 inches deep to less than 1 inch coated the river bottom across the state line into Virginia and to Kerr Lake, a major reservoir.

Federal authorities expressed concern for what long-term effect the contaminants will have on fish, mussels and other aquatic life. Public health officials have advised people to avoid contact with the water and not eat the fish.

"The deposits vary with the river characteristics, but the short- and long-term physical and chemical impacts from the ash will need to be investigated more thoroughly, especially with regard to mussels and fish associated with the stream bottom and wildlife that feed on benthic invertebrates," said Tom Augspurger, a contaminants specialist at the federal wildlife agency.

Benthic invertebrates are small animals that live in the sediments of rivers and lakes, such as clams, worms and crustaceans.

The Dan River system in North Carolina and Virginia is home to two federally listed endangered species, the Roanoke logperch fish and the James spinymussel. The river also has another freshwater mussel, the green floater, which is currently being evaluated for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Officials said the coal ash is burying aquatic animals and their food. The ash, generated when coal is burned to generate electricity, could also clog gill tissues in fish and mussels. The agency said public reports of dead aquatic turtles at two state parks in Virginia had not yet been verified by federal biologists.

Authorities said public drinking water in Danville, Va., and other communities downstream of the spill site remain safe. Heavy metals detected in the river at levels exceeding state and federal safety standards, including arsenic, lead and selenium, are being successfully filtered out of water drawn from the river at municipal treatment plants, they said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned that increased flow in the river resulting from last week's snowfall and rain threatens to wash the toxic ash even further downstream.

Meanwhile, Democratic legislative leaders are urging Gov. Pat McCrory to release publicly all correspondence over the last three years between him and Duke, his former employer.

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt and House Minority Leader Larry Hall sent McCrory a letter Tuesday stating that more transparency in his relationship with Duke could boost public confidence in his administration's ability to respond to the ash spill.

"North Carolina families deserve to have confidence in the purity of their drinking water and the integrity of your administration in ensuring proper safety regulations and oversight," the letter said. "Unfortunately, as a consequence of this spill, as well as recent reports detailing your administration's relationship with Duke Energy and the Department of (Environment) and Natural Resources' intervention in several lawsuits against Duke Energy by the Southern Environmental Law Center, this confidence no longer exists."

McCrory last week became irritated when reporters asked him about the response to the ash spill and his Duke ties during a news conference about the state response to a winter storm.

On Monday, DENR Secretary John Skvarla told lawmakers that McCrory told him to protect the environment and "do what's right" when he briefed the governor about plans to sue Duke over its coal ash ponds. Environmental advocates insist that the state action occurred only after the SELC and other groups tried to sue Duke separately.


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  • Come On_Seriously Feb 19, 2014

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    Really? The job creators? You mean the ones creating the jobs to dredge toxic ash from the water, doctors to treat the people made sick from drinking contaminated water or eating fish or game that has contaminated by the chemicals and heavy metals, or maybe for the state inspectors, engineers, and attorneys who we all pay for with our taxes. Maybe they are the creators of tourism jobs in other states as the water is fouled in ours.

    Sounds like you're in favor of jobs for accountants, lawyers, media relations experts whose jobs involve taking our money and not using it for all they say it will. The costs of construction, maintenance, and storage at these facilities are already incorporated into their fees. We, the consumers, are not getting what we pay them for, yet folks defend the devious? These 'job creators' take our money without doing all they say it pays for, while wasting our tax money by making the state now deal with it.

  • Scott Mace Feb 19, 2014
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    So if I give you a glass of water to drink with this stuff in the bottom of it, that's OK too... so what, right? It's on the bottom, not IN it....

  • Lorna Schuler Feb 19, 2014
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    You need to actually research just a tad there..you know way before McCrory and "his stooges" in regards to this issue. It's been going on much longer than you think with other folks in the lead.

    It should have been dealt with long,long ago.

  • George George Feb 19, 2014
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    Why didnt the democrats order Duke to do somehting with these ponds under Perdue and/ or Easley?

  • stymieindurham Feb 19, 2014

    dennis and Obama - what exactly did the gov do that was wrong since you specifically say it is his fault??

    I'm with you on this one. They're just haters of non-democrats spewing accusations with no facts.

  • stymieindurham Feb 19, 2014

    " . . . . we’re concerned that this second stormwater pipe on site may also be leaking water . . . . "

    Good lord!! Is it or is it not?!!! I was about to get fired-up about another hazard. The story DOES NOT match your headline WRAL. At least get it right.

  • Mannin Black Feb 19, 2014
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    I second that motion!

  • Jackie Strouble Feb 18, 2014
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    Teratogenic - of or relating to substances or agents that can interfere with normal embryonic development.

    In other words, a substance which causes birth defects and abortions.

    Brought to you by the anti-abortion, anti-healthcare, anti-environment, anti-government regulation party. Look for it in a reservoir near you!

  • Hippy_mom Feb 18, 2014

    "Authorities said public drinking water in Danville, Va., and other communities downstream of the spill site remain safe."

    Why does this not bring me comfort?

  • Paul Edwards Feb 18, 2014
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    It's on the bottom of the river. So what?