On Thursday, Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper reported that contaminated water is still pouring into the Dan River from the same Duke Energy coal ash impoundment that released tens of thousands of tons of coal ash into the river earlier this month. Results from a second round of water sampling show that highly-contaminated coal ash seepage is leaking from a location about one third of a mile upstream from the earlier spill.
Just two days after the initial spill, Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison noticed an unusual discharge leaking down an embankment of the coal ash impoundment. The area caught his attention because the rocks there were stained bright orange. “I could see that the rocks had a thick, slimy coating, an indication of iron-oxidizing bacteria that is often present where seepage is bleeding out of coal ash pits,” Harrison said.
According to Waterkeeper Alliance, on February 11, officials from the EPA and North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) denied having knowledge of any ongoing leaks. Officials were questioned by Waterkeeper about the additional leak at a public meeting in Danville, VA and did not ask for additional details about the location or nature of the seepage.
“The discharge concerned me because I’d reviewed the discharge permit for this facility and I knew that there wasn’t supposed to be anything coming out of the ash pond right there,” Harrison added. As of last week, Harrison’s team had visited the areas four times and observed the discharge “flowing unabated” each time.
Laboratory testing of the discharge showed multiple pollutants including the toxic heavy metals arsenic and chromium. Discharges like the one in question are prohibited by the Clean Water Act unless specifically authorized by a permit. Violation of the Clean Water Act is a federal crime.
In 2013, the North Carolina DENR filed four lawsuits against Duke Energy after the department discovered multiple illegal areas of seepage flowing into the Dan River. The lawsuit also accused Duke of contaminating groundwater with “antimony, arsenic, boron, iron, manganese, TDS, and sulfate.” After 6 months, DENR has taken no action to pressure the company, nor has Duke addressed the issues.
Because of Duke’s failure to address illegal seepage referred to in the complaint against the company, and because DENR court papers fail to identify the location of the previously-reported seepage, Waterkeeper Alliance is uncertain if the discharge its team observed is old seepage, or yet another leak from Duke’s coal ash impoundment.
In 2009, the EPA issued a list of 45 coal ash impoundments which they consider “high hazard.” Ten of the 45 are owned by Duke Energy and located in North Carolina.
Waterkeeper Alliance, Yadkin Riverkeeper, and other groups have questioned DENR’s handling of Duke’s coal ash leaks. Water samples collected by DENR, which claimed that levels of arsenic in the river were safe, were at odds with samples taken by Waterkeeper.
Waterkeeper Alliance’s Global Coal Campaign coordinator Donna Lisenby notes that DENR has neglected to stop illegal seepage at other facilities as well, including Duke’s Riverbend Steam Station. From that facility, toxic discharge flows into Mountain Island Lake, “about three miles upstream of an intake structure that supplies drinking water to more than 800,000 people in the Charlotte area.”
Image via: Waterkeeper Alliance