Charlotte Residents Protest Duke’s Coal Ash Spill, Concerned about Risk to Their Water

Media release - February 6, 2014
CONTACTS: Robert Corriher, Charlotte Environmental Action, 704-779-7411 Monica Embrey, Greenpeace Charlotte, 773-419-0963,

PHOTOS on Twitter: Follow @NCGreenpeace

CHARLOTTE, NC—Dozens of Charlotte residents protested outside of Duke Energy’s headquarters today, expressing outrage at the company’s negligence in spilling over 80,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, and concern that Charlotte’s own water is at risk of an even larger disaster.

“Whatever remaining trust people had in Duke Energy to protect our safety and well-being, that trust is gone,” said Robert Corriher, Charlotte resident and spokesperson for the group Charlotte Environmental Action. “People on the Dan River will be dealing with toxins in their water for years to come, and we’re concerned that Charlotte could suffer an even bigger disaster if Duke continues to store hazardous chemicals on the banks of the lake that supplies our drinking water.”

The residents held 5-gallon water jugs and a large banner with a quote from Duke’s web site reading “We are confident that each of our ash ponds has the structural integrity necessary to protect the public and the environment.” [1]

Duke Energy still has not stopped the spill in the Dan River, now the third largest coal ash disaster in US history. The river, grey and filled with sludge for miles downstream of the spill, may be severely compromised in its ability to support fishing, recreation and aquatic life for years to come.

Duke Energy operates two much larger coal ash dumps at its now-retired Riverbend coal plant on the shores of Mountain Island Lake, which supplies Charlotte’s drinking water. Those dumps are far bigger than the one that began spilling on Sunday into the Dan River, measuring 80 feet deep at some points. The EPA rates them as “high hazards” because they pose a catastrophic threat, including loss of life, if an accident were to occur. Catawba Riverkeeper has already identified four unpermitted streams and over 15 contaminated seeps of groundwater that test positive for chemicals like arsenic and cobalt. [2]

Duke has called the Riverbend coal ash dumps “safe”, but company spokespeople acknowledged yesterday that they hadn’t even known what the burst pipe responsible for the Dan River spill was made of or when it was built, leaving Charlotte residents to wonder what they don’t know about the Riverbend ash dumps. [3]

“Any coal ash dump next to a river or lake is a ticking time bomb, and Duke has lost all credibility when it says it’s responsible to hold the fuse,” Greenpeace Charlotte organizer Monica Embrey said. “Duke should clean up its mess in the Dan River and make sure that Charlotte isn’t next.”

In the wake of the Dan River disaster, Duke has begun making new claims that it would change the way it stores ash, but a company spokesperson says Duke may opt for a corner-cutting fix in which it leaves the coal ash at Riverbend and other dumps in place, unlined, only to cap them and plant grass on top. [4]

The protestors called on Duke to follow the lead of utilities in South Carolina that would remove coal ash from lake and riversides and bury it dry in lined landfills. [5]

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Aerial photos of the spill are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/greenpeaceusa09/sets/72157640503826695/

To download unedited aerial footage of the spill, see http://photo.greenpeace.org/image/GP0STO7HU(registration required)

Notes: [1] http://www.duke-energy.com/environment/land-quality/wet-ash-handling.asp

[2] http://www.catawbariverkeeper.org/issues/coal-ash-1/riverbend-coal-ash-waste-ponds-fact-sheet

[3] http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/02/05/4665361/broken-duke-pipe-was-metal-not.html#.UvMhC_ldW7w

[4] http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/power_city/2014/02/duke-energy-will-change-coal-ash-storage-at-dan.html?ana=lnk

[5] http://www.wcnc.com/news/editors-pick/SC-ahead-of-NC-in-coal-ash-cleanup-227933051.html CONTACT: Robert Corriher, Charlotte Environmental Action, 704-779-7411 Monica Embrey, Greenpeace Charlotte, 773-419-0963,