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More metal pipes found at Duke coal ash sites

Corrugated metal pipes similar to the one that ruptured last month and caused a massive coal ash spill at a retired Duke Energy power plant in Eden are in use at eight other Duke plants in North Carolina, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Wednesday.

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Coal ash spill in Dan River
By
Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — Corrugated metal pipes similar to the one that ruptured last month and caused a massive coal ash spill at a retired Duke Energy power plant in Eden are in use at eight other Duke plants in North Carolina, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Wednesday.

The Feb. 2 spill in the Dan River prompted a review of Duke's 14 current and retired coal-fired plants statewide.

The stormwater pipe in Eden was supposed to have been made of concrete, but the spill revealed that only the visible ends of the pipe were concrete and that cheaper corrugated metal had been used for the underground section of the conduit.

At that time, Duke and state regulators said they believed the Dan River coal ash site was the only place the failure-prone metal pipes had been used.

That assertion was cast into doubt Feb. 28, when DENR announced that another corroded metal stormwater pipe at Duke's Cliffside plant was found to be leaking groundwater near the Broad River in Rutherford County. 

DENR now says they were also informed Feb. 28 that Duke discovered corrugated metal pipes in use at seven other coal ash sites. None of those pipes run under an ash pond, as the one at Dan River did, but they are in overflow mechanisms that are in direct contact with ash and water. 

"The corrugated metal pipes identified by Duke Energy are used in risers (vertical pipes)  or spillway conduits (horizontal pipes connected to the risers) in the coal ash impoundments that redirect ash material when it reaches the top of the pipe to another lagoon or to the receiving water body," DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer said. 

Coal Ash Dam Diagram

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In addition to Cliffside, the pipes have been found at the Belew's Creek coal ash site in Stokes County, Buck in Rowan County, Marshall in Catawba County, Riverbend in Gaston County, Sutton in New Hanover County, Mayo in Person County, and Weatherspoon in Robeson County.  

According to a Wednesday press release from DENR, "State regulators plan to conduct detailed inspections of all Duke Energy’s coal ash facilities in North Carolina next week and will request that Duke Energy provide engineering and emergency action plans and maps for the facilities and videos of the insides of all pipes at the impoundments."

The release says state inspectors will also inspect and test all "discharge points" from coal ash lagoons, whether or not they're covered by a permit. 

“If we’re going to address these facilities in a deliberate and thoughtful manner, we first need comprehensive data about everything we can learn about these facilities,” Division of Water Quality chief Tom Reeder said in the release. “All of this information will inform our future decision-making with regard to these coal ash impoundments.”