Moral Low Ground

Economy

82,000 Tons of Coal Ash Spills from Duke Energy Plant Into North Carolina’s Dan River

As many as 82,000 tons of coal ash have spilled into a North Carolina river from a disused coal plant run by the nation’s largest electricity provider.

NBC News reports a broken pipe at Duke Energy’s retired Eden power plant discharged the coal ash, mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water, into the Dan River, threatening the local water supply. The spill was discovered Sunday and continues.

Coal ash is the waste product remaining after coal is burned in a power plant. It is collected in ponds, in this case an unlined, 27-acre one that drained into a 48-inch (1.22-meter) pipe that ruptured.

Danville, the nearest municipality that draws its water from the Dan, reported no problems with its water, the Charlotte Observer reports.

The Associated Press reports Duke Energy has admitted that its tests have shown traces of arsenic contamination in the river, but at levels considered safe for both humans and aquatic life. The environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance, which is calling the accident the third-worst coal spill in US history, said a laboratory it hired to test the water found arsenic levels 10 times higher than Duke’s analysis.

The group also said that coal ash contains heavy metals and toxic compounds including boron, chromium, selenium, mercury and lead, although there are no reports of any of these toxins being found in the Dan River yet.

Waterkeeper Alliance called the spill “the latest in a series of wake-up calls” about the threat of leaking ash ponds.

North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced it was conducting tests to determine whether the river water is safe for fishing and canoeing.

Duke Energy said Wednesday that hundreds of people were working night and day, using heavy equipment in a bid to contain the disaster.

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