State issues Dan River warnings after coal ash spill

Posted February 12, 2014

— Ten days after a massive spill of coal ash into the Dan River in Rockingham County, state health officials on Wednesday warned people against swimming in the river or eating fish from it.

Duke Energy has estimated up to 82,000 tons of ash spilled from two ponds at a defunct coal-fired plant in Eden after a stormwater pipe that ran under the ponds ruptured on Feb. 2. The Charlotte-based utility closed the plant two years ago.

The ash, which is left over after coal is burned to power electric plants, contains arsenic, mercury, lead, boron and other heavy metals. Scientists say the contaminants don't readily dissolve in water and usually sink to the bottom of the river, where they can pose a risk to aquatic life.

State environmental officials initially said their tests of water downstream of the spill showed only elevated levels of copper in the river. They later said, however, that they misread the test results and said the level of arsenic in the river also exceeded safe levels.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that arsenic and copper levels in the river had dropped to safe levels but that the levels of aluminum and iron in the river remained above surface water quality standards.

"We remain very concerned about the effects of this spill on the river’s long-term health," Tom Reeder, director of the state Division of Water Resources, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the state Division of Public Health issued two health advisories for the Dan River near the spill and downstream.

Health officials warned against "recreational contact" with the river or sediment, including contacting any ash that washed up along the river banks. Because contact with the ash can cause skin irritation, people should wash exposed areas with soap and water, officials said.

Also, people should avoid eating fish or shellfish from the river downstream of the spill, they said.


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  • Pirate01 Feb 14, 2014

    I wonder if all of the people complaining about "fossil fuels" would be willing to swim in or eat the by products of the solar and wind energy industry?

  • wayneboyd Feb 14, 2014

    Orange RN, From 1944-1956 the town where I lived eas host to the railroads main line. There was a coal fired steam engine passing approximately every 20 minutes, There were three large textile Mfg. p;ants with coal fired steam boilers.
    At least 1/3 of the homes in my town were heated in winter withh coal and people, most of them died before they reached 60 years old.
    I don't condone Duke Energy's part in whats happened, but you let the electricity go out for two days and the same crowd thats squawking on here now will be demanding that their energy bills be adjusted accordingly.
    Its not Duke energys fault that we got too lazy to split wood, draw water, or read by candlelight.

  • Rebelyell55 Feb 13, 2014

    Nope I'm pretty sure the tax payers will be paying for this. Now that the Fed's are involved, (taxes pay for them too), I just hope they find all involved in the cover up and hope some go to jail for this. Send a clear message.

  • Jim Frei Feb 13, 2014
    user avatar

    Darn, and I was just heading out for an afternoon swim. Guess I won't be eating any delicious Kerr Lake clams either.

  • recontwice Feb 13, 2014

    View quoted thread

    If you think that the taxpayers arent going to take a hit on any fine and cleanup you forget which governor duke has on its payroll!!

  • ALECarolina Feb 12, 2014

    "What's good for BUSINESS is good for AMERICA"
    "Regulations on job creators KILL JOBS"
    "Clean coal is the FUTURE"

    A big shout out to Mr.Science down there, preachin' his sermon on how creek mud is just as toxic as concentrated arsenic from coal ash..........and he VOTES.

  • disgusted2010 Feb 12, 2014

    Ah, release a watered down statement appearing to care about the environment when it is obvious that it will get no play due to the storm.

  • Rebelyell55 Feb 12, 2014

    One other thing, a "mis-read" ? And we gonna trust these foks on regulation of "Fracking"? Please!

  • Rebelyell55 Feb 12, 2014

    At the rate things are being found out, not only will Duke get hit with fine by Feds, but the state may also get a fine that the tax payers will have to pay. Ain't saying there won't or was an effort in cover up, and certainly hope someone is putting in corrective action to avoid another "mis-read" of test results. This is serious and I certainly hope the ciitzens of NC don't get hit with a double whammy for Duke's error and the States errors.

  • busyb97 Feb 12, 2014

    Exactly how would more regulations prevented the pipe rupturing? Likely, it wouldn't have. Was it because of freezing temps recently?