Eden, N.C. — State regulators say another stormwater pipe near the Dan River coal ash pits is leaking water high in arsenic and other heavy metals.
The new leak, the third at the troubled site, is a 12-inch stormwater pipe leaking into a ditch that leads to the river. It was pointed out to regulators by local citizens who noticed bright orange rocks at the site where the water reaches the river.
The ditch is not a permitted discharge, according to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The state has been testing water at the newest leak since Feb. 14. DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer said the test results were not available until Friday.
According to DENR, state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tests of the leaking water in mid-February showed high levels of arsenic, aluminum, iron and zinc. Arsenic and iron remained high in a second round of tests in late February.
However, state Division of Water Resources chief Tom Reeder says the new leak doesn't violate state water quality standards because it's sufficiently diluted by the river.
“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 in an agency news release.
“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.”
Attorney Frank Holleman with the Southern Environmental Law Center disagreed.
"Surely, Mr. Reeder knows that dilution is not the solution for illegal pollution," Holleman said. "You can't dilute your way out of a violation of the Clean Water Act and state law."
Holleman pointed to a Thursday's ruling by Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway that said the state had failed to enforce its own laws regarding coal ash ponds and must require Duke Energy to take "immediate action" to stop contamination at its 14 coal ash sites.
"When are [state regulators] going to begin obeying the law? And when is Duke Energy going to begin obeying the law?" Holleman asked. "DENR needs to get out and do its job and get this coal ash moved."
Kritzer said the agency "will be taking a closer look at this outfall and all other pipes and outfalls, as well as dams and other infrastructure at all 14 Duke Energy coal-fired power plants next week as part of our inspections and ongoing investigation."