(Updated) Duke Energy: Leaving more than 90 percent of coal ash good enough for now

by Brian Johnson

July 24, 2014

Matt Wasson, director of programs at Appalachian Voices, pours out grey sediment from a bucket while collecting samples to test for heavy metals from the Dan River at Draper Landing in Eden, NC Tuesday, February 4, 2014. Duke Energy said that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water were released from a pond at its retired power plant in Eden, North Carolina into the Dan River, and were still flowing. Duke said a 48-inch stormwater pipe beneath the unlined ash pond broke February 2, 2014. Water and ash from the 27-acre pond drained into the pipe. Photo by Jason E. Miczek

©Jason Miczek/Greenpeace

UPDATE: North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has declared that Dan River is now safe for recreational use. Local news station ABC11-WTVDis questioningthe announcement, after finding coal ash just below the riverbottom with the help of Waterkeeper Alliance.

DHHS says that scientists made the decision but refuses to clarify who. ABC11 was also turned away by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which cameunder scutinyfor its business-friendly attitude toward regulationin the wake of the spill. Both the heads of DENR and DHHS areappointees ofGovernor Pat McCrory, a former 28-year-employee of Duke.


Its been nearly half a year since Dukes massive coal ash spill, and the vast majority of the disaster has yet to be cleaned up. Common courtesy says Duke has a lot more work to do. Duke seems to think its done a good enough job for now.

In February, the coal ash dump at Dukes Eden, NC, plant unleashed the third worst coal ash spill in U.S. history. The ash spread across 70 miles of the Dan River and into Virginia, carrying with it toxic chemicals like arsenic, mercury and lead.

Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in North Carolina

People in canoes maneuver in the Dan River where a coal ash spill changes the color of the river in Eden, North Carolina on February 4, 2014.

Duke has worked with regulators to clean up the disaster, but according to a Charlotte Observer article, much of the coal ash remains. Of the 39,000 tons that spilled, only 3,000 have been recovered. Thats just 8% of the spill.

For Duke, thats good enough for now. there currently are no additional deposits to be removed from the river, the company said.

The spill shows the risks and long term impacts of failing to properly store coal ash. River sediment has settled over the ash, such that digging it out would risk mixing ash back into the water. Duke and regulatorssay they planto clean up any ash that becomes exposed.



But the fact remains: Dan Riverand the people and animals that live on it and near itwill be stuck with Dukes coal ash for a long time.

That brings a larger point: Why we cant afford coal ash spills in the first place. Duke said its coal ash dumps were safe. That claim proved false. And with anything less than a full cleanup of Dan River, Duke might as well tell North Carolinians their state is a company dumping ground.

Brian Johnson

By Brian Johnson

Brian is a campaigner with Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Team. Follow him @BFWJohnson.

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