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Officials investigate coal ash spill in Eden
February 5, 2014 - Ben Klein
EDEN, N.C. (AP) — State and federal environmental officials on Tuesday continued their investigations of a spill of coal ash into the Dan River in Rockingham County.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Secretary John Skvarla went to the site on Tuesday. A day earlier, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were dispatched to the scene.
Duke Energy reported that the spill happened on Sunday afternoon. Since then, company officials say they have been monitoring water quality and have had some success stemming the spillage. The ash pond covers about 27 acres, and the dam holding the water in was not affected by the leak, officials said.
"I'm appalled and stunned that another coal ash pond has failed so catastrophically in the United States," said Donna Lisenby, campaign coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. "It is still pouring coal ash into the river more than 36 hours after it was discovered."
Lisenby said Duke Energy workers were still at the source of the spill trying to stem it as darkness fell Tuesday. She said coal ash hugs the shore at the origin of the spill, but covers the width of the river two miles downstream.
Duke Energy officials had provided no additional updates as of Tuesday afternoon. A spokesman for DENR didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but the agency issued a statement saying initial testing showed there was no deviation from normal levels for temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen due to the spill.
Water samples were delivered to a lab in Raleigh for further testing. Some results are expected on Wednesday, according to the statement.
The utility estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash — or the volume of about 32 Olympic-size swimming pools — has been released from a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant in Eden.
The power plant closed in 2012 and has not produced new coal ash since then.
Duke also estimates that up to 27 million gallons of basin water has reached the river. Officials in Rockingham County and downstream in Danville, Va., have said there are no problems with their water supplies.
Lisenby urged water customers downstream from the spill to monitor their water supplies.
Coal ash is the waste left after burning coal. It contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic.
Environmental groups, some of which have sued Duke Energy over 14 coal ash dump sites in North Carolina, have sharply criticized the utility for waiting for a day before reporting the spill to the public and not immediately releasing information such as results of water quality tests on the river.
"Coal ash is the waste left after burning. It contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic. Amy Adams, also with Appalachian Voices, said she's concerned about drinking water supplies.
“There are water intakes further downstream that are used for public water supply and our concern is that those water supplies may be contaminated, or have the potential to be contaminated from this coal ash spill,” said Adams.
“We just learned from West Virginia, and this is a larger spill than West Virginia had, just how devastating those spills can be to public water intakes,” added Adams.
In a news release, Duke Energy said it has been monitoring water quality and has had some success stemming the spillage."
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In this image made Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, and released by Appalachian Voices, shows Matt Wasson, Director of Appalachian Voices as he tests the water on the Dan River near Eden, N.C. Duke Energy estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash accidentally spilled into the river Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. Coal ash is the waste left after burning coal. It contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic. AP Photo