Though no immediate threat to drinking water in
nearby Virginia towns was reported, officials said concerns remain
about how the spill could affect the long-term wellbeing of the Dan
"The Dan River does not have a clean bill of health," said Tom
Reeder, director of the North Carolina Division of Water Resources.
The ash release was discovered on Sunday at a Duke Energy power
plant in Eden. The company said the broken stormwater pipe under a
27-acre ash pond released enough coal ash to fill between 20 and 32
Olympic-size swimming pools.
An estimated 24 to 27 million gallons of ash basin water also
reached the river, according to the utility's initial estimates.
The state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it
would continue to evaluate whether the water was safe in the river
where fishing and canoeing are popular activities.
The agency was awaiting analysis of multiple metal levels in
addition to the results released on Thursday.
An international group of water advocates said laboratory analysis
of water samples it collected from an affected part of the river
showed "extremely high levels of arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and
other toxic metals typically found in coal ash."
"Duke could have avoided contaminating the Dan River and poisoning
Virginia's water supplies if it had removed its toxic ash heaps
years ago after being warned by EPA," said Robert F. Kennedy Jr.,
president of Waterkeeper Alliance.
A Duke Energy spokesman said tests by the utility and North Carolina
officials showed no adverse impact on the water supply.
"We feel confident in that data," said spokesman Dave Scanzoni.
Hundreds of workers have been at the site this week trying to stop
the ash flow and permanently seal the broken pipe, Duke Energy said
in a statement. A spokeswoman said there was no indication of when
the spill, which was visible several miles downstream, would be
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"It has slowed since the break was discovered," spokeswoman
Meghan Musgrave said. "Our focus remains on public safety and fixing
this break in the pipe."
Duke Energy, the country's largest electric power provider,
retired the Eden coal plant in 2012. No coal ash has been produced
at the site since then.
The plant was built in the 1940s, and the stormwater pipe was in
place before the ash basin was extended over it, Musgrave said. The
ash pond stored the waste produced by coal burning.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory visited the spill site on
Thursday and urged the energy company to get the spill contained so
cleanup efforts could begin.
"We will continue to be here on site throughout the cleanup efforts
and subsequent investigation of this incident," the governor said in
a statement. "We need to make sure this never happens again in North
In lawsuits filed last year, McCrory's administration asked a court
to require the utility to address wastewater discharge from 14 of
its coal ash impoundments in the state.
The Waterkeeper Alliance has called on Duke Energy to close all of
its ash ponds.
(Additional reporting by Jim Brumm;
editing by Andrew Hay, Bernard Orr)
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