Local News

Duke Energy settles with dozens of homeowners over Dan River coal ash spill

Posted March 6, 2019 6:34 p.m. EST

Coal ash

— More than five years after 39,000 tons of coal ash washed into the Dan River from a Duke Energy plant in Rockingham County, the utility has settled with dozens of families who live along the river.

Terms of the settlement, which covers 33 property owners, weren't disclosed.

A breach in a containment pond at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden dumped ash and millions of gallons of toxic pond water into the river on Feb. 2, 2014, coating the riverbanks with gray sludge. Coal ash was found in the river as far as 70 miles downstream.

The ash is what's left over after coal is burned to generate electricity, and it contains mercury, lead, arsenic and other elements toxic to humans.

"The despoliation of the Dan River as a result of Duke's negligence caused significant hardship for these 33 individuals and their families," attorney Bryan Brice said in a statement. "It was a tragedy that should never have occurred."

"Years of scientific research demonstrates that the Dan River environment, ecosystem and neighboring agricultural lands were not impacted by the 2014 incident, and recreational enjoyment of the river and surrounding area continues to grow, so we are pleased to put this issue behind us," Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said in a statement.

The spill prompted the General Assembly to push Duke into closing all of its coal ash ponds, dig up the ash at several considered to be high risk so it could be transferred to lined landfills and cover the remaining ponds, leaving the ash in place.

"This settlement also puts Duke Energy on notice to act responsibly to protect the environment and take all necessary steps to ensure that these types of incidents do not occur again," Brice said. "There are many other coal ash ponds in our state and across the country where proper closure and removal of coal ash must occur to protect all downstream property owners and the rivers upon which they live."