Goldsboro keeps wary eye on upstream coal ash ponds

Posted February 27, 2014

— Like most folks in Goldsboro, Ricky Richardson doesn't think of coal ash as a local problem.

Recent news coverage has focused on the spill of almost 40,000 tons of ash into the Dan River hundreds of miles away at Eden, but an even larger ash pond sits 10 miles upstream from Goldsboro's water intake on the Neuse River.

"I have seen it on TV – I have seen it in other places like Virginia and like that – but not here in Goldsboro," Richardson said.

Richardson's response doesn't surprise Goldsboro Mayor Al King. "The average citizen is not aware of it, but we are,"  he said.

Duke Energy shut down the coal-fired H.F. Lee Plant near Goldsboro in 2012, replacing it with a natural gas-fired plant. About 645 million gallons of coal ash produced by the former Progress Energy plant for five decades still sit, however, in three huge, unlined pits next to the river.

Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr says the trio of ash ponds is so close to the river that he can throw a rock from the bank to the top of the earthen dam that contains one pond.

State regulators rate the ponds' dams as a high hazard for failure. That's similar to the rating given to the ash pond in Eden, but the Goldsboro site holds four times more toxic sludge.

Goldsboro is prepared for the worst, King said, with a five-day water reservoir that can be cut off from the river if the ash pond dams ever fail.

"Hopefully, we won't have to do that, but if we have to, we have to," he said.

Damage is already occurring near the site, even without a major ash spill. Cancer-causing pollutants have been leaking into the groundwater from the ponds for years.

"It's continuously happening," Starr said, noting tests of nearby groundwater show levels of arsenic 60 times greater than federal drinking water standards.

Levels of arsenic and heavy metals in the groundwater have violated safety levels repeatedly for the past few years. State environmental regulators have done nothing to halt the damage, and neither Progress nor Duke has been penalized.

Coal ash Coal ash ponds located across NC

Susan Massengale, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the contamination at the Goldsboro site is part of a lawsuit the state filed last August against Duke for coal ash violations across North Carolina.

Massengale confirmed, however, that the state hadn't taken any action against Duke before that for violating the state water-quality regulations or to force it to stop.

"There’s various cleanup actions we could have taken with them at the time," she said. "As long as they moved forward in executing those actions as we required, then the thought was to not fine them. If they did not do what we required, to look then at compliance actions.”

There are no state records of cleanup actions required of Duke at the Goldsboro site, she said, adding the lawsuit has "kind of frozen that process."

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the utility is in the process of imploding the defunct coal-fired plant and is committed to safely disposing of the coal ash. She declined to say how or when that would happen.

Sheehan also said Duke's tests show no environmental damage to the Neuse River by the coal ash ponds.

Groundwater arsenic levels have exceeded safety standards for almost four years, but Massengale said results from monitoring wells near the ash ponds can vary from month to month.

"It’s not simple and straightforward. It’s underground. It’s not that easy," she said. "We’re watching what data points we’re getting from these wells, trying to determine what’s going on at these sites.”

Goldsboro's water system is able to remove arsenic and metals from the water, King said, but residents who have private wells don't have that protection.

Starr said there's only one solution to the threat posed by the ash ponds near Goldsboro and Duke's 29 other ash ponds across North Carolina.

"The coal ash needs to be removed," he said. "It needs to be put in landfills that are lined and moved away from surface waters."

 King agreed and is pushing Duke to take action.

"They put it there, and it is their responsibility to clean it up," he said.


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  • judithpsimmons Mar 1, 2014

    Last night I put a comment on here and it was shown this a.m. and now I do not see it. Why was it taken off? Was it because I expressed concern for my family and others that lived in the area was exposed to the ashes? Also, expressed concern that some of my health issues could be related to these ashes being spewed all over out area in the middle of the night when the stacks over there were being blown out or whatever they were doing? Would you please add my comment back to these posting. I again state their should be a full investigation of the floods, as another concerned citizen expressed, over the last 40 years. The results of the investigation should be made available to the public! Again, I doubt that will happen with all the power Progress Energy has with politicians!

  • judithpsimmons Mar 1, 2014

    Unfortunately, in my area we do not get WRAL 5 on our Direct TV service. I would not have known about this information if my daughter had not left me a message last night about the news report. We already know the power company lied about whatever they were doing with those smoke stacks, i.e. blowing them our or whatever, which were always in the middle of the night and were loud enough to wake us up. At that time it was CP&L I have read all the comments and am concerned about me, my family and others living in that environment for so many years. I have medical issues which I wonder if some may have been caused by some of the toxins in the ash. Another person commented here on all the flooding that has occurred in that area in the last 40 years. A thorough investigation should be made regarding these issues and results made known to the public. I do not foresee that happening with all the clout Progress Energy has.

  • Jeff Johnson Feb 28, 2014
    user avatar

    Duke and Progress should never have been allowed to merge. It appears Duke is a cut-corner operation. Unforutnately that attitude pervades US Businesses these days. Government is too busy looking out for itself to worry about its citizens well-being.

  • WRAL_USER Feb 28, 2014

    @raleigh rocks1

    OK, sure... just jump in one of these ponds for just a second then, bet you won't... The crooked GOP allowed this to happen proving once again their preference for $ of the well being of the citizens of NC. Crooks one and all... Vote against the GOP at all times and at all levels!!!

  • judithpsimmons Feb 28, 2014

    For 30 plus years I lived very near these ash ponds in the Rosewood Community. This really concerns me as we had well water. At times the big stacks over there would rumble real loud at night and the following day ashes would be all over things in my yard. When my daughter was in high school they went on a field trip to tour the plant. When they asked if anyone had questions, my daughter asked about these incidents that occurred regularly. I may be wrong but I think an engineer was leading them on the tour. His answer was that this does not happen! My daughter's teacher, who resided just a little further down our road, told him, "Yes it does! I live nearby her and this does happen!" Of course he did not give them any further answer. While we were living there a hurricane came thru and water from the area of the plant came almost up to the Old Smithfield Highway which ran by the plant. We lived just before that entrance to the left a short distonace down on Friendly Rd.

  • Russell Chapman Feb 28, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Fly ash contains trace concentrations of heavy metals and other substances that are known to be detrimental to health in sufficient quantities. Potentially toxic trace elements in coal include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, radium, selenium, thorium, uranium, vanadium, and zinc.[39][40] Approximately 10% of the mass of coals burned in the United States consists of unburnable mineral material that becomes ash, so the concentration of most trace elements in coal ash is approximately 10 times the concentration in the original coal.
    Another fly ash component of some concern is lime (CaO). This chemical reacts with water (H2O) to form calcium hydroxide [Ca(OH)2], giving fly ash a pH somewhere between 10 and 12, a medium to strong base. This can also cause lung damage if present in sufficient quantities.

  • Raleigh Rocks 1 Feb 28, 2014

    Emaleth said..(Duke Power) will put put it off as long as no one forces them to clean it.....That is pure conjecture.

    Anything can be toxic if the dose is high enough. Take Salt, you can not live without it but take too much and you are dead.

    Collectively, the trace elements that could be toxic comprise less than 1% of the weight of the fly ash. Like other naturally occurring and man made materials, coal ash contains some substances that can be toxic. However the mere presence of these in coal ash does not equal toxicity.

  • emaleth Feb 28, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I hope you're being sarcastic. It's not JUST ash. It's poison, by the ton. Duke might say it's going to clean it up, but they won't say when, and they will put put it off as long as no one forces them to clean it up.

  • Raleigh Rocks 1 Feb 28, 2014

    Its Ash right? I know a lot of libs keep on complaining but its just ash. They complain, ytell about Duke and McCrory, and then go use all the electricity duke supplies for lights TV, and the computer to write about them. Seems like a non issue as Duke has said it would clean it up...but its just ash right?

  • dennis8 Feb 28, 2014

    But coal ash is not hazardous, according to Duke Powers lobbing group in DC. They are lobbing the House hard to get a law declaring coal ash a non-hazardous material. If they get their way they will be able to do whatever they want with this sludge.