Florence Has Washed Away A Mountain of Toxic Coal Ash, Likely Into NC Rivers

September 17, 2018 at 1:08 pm

At least one of Duke Energy’s giant coal-ash piles has collapsed, displacing 2000 cubic meters of ash containing arsenic, lead and mercury, likely into North Carolina’s drinking water.

39,000 tons of coal ash spilled from a coal ash pond in Eden, NC, in 2014, contaminating 70 miles of the Dan River. Credit: Waterkeeper Alliance

As expected, Hurricane Florence has washed away a large portion of a toxic coal-ash landfill located near the Cape Fear River. It’s one of dozens of landfills Duke Energy was supposed to move away from North Carolina’s coastal rivers years ago.

The mountains of toxic ash, left over as a byproduct from Duke Energy’s coal mining days, contain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, which could not only kill fish, but could poison local drinking water.

“Duke Energy said Saturday night that heavy rains from Florence caused a slope to collapse at a coal-ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast,” the Associated Press reports.

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said about 2,000 cubic yards of ash were displaced at the L. V. Sutton Power Station, outside Wilmington. That’s enough ash to roughly fill 180 dump trucks.

The contaminated runoff likely flowed into the plant’s cooling pond, she said.

“The company has not yet determined whether the weir that drains the lake was open or if contamination may have flowed into the Cape Fear River,” the AP reports.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “an undetermined amount” of coal ash did wash into nearby Lake Sutton, which feeds into the Cape Fear River.

Sunday afternoon, bulldozers could be seen hauling sand to repair two breaches in the containment area. “A thick gray discharge was still flowing out,” WSJ reports.

Duke has been under intense scrutiny for the handling of its coal ash since spill in Eden, NC, in 2014, that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge.

Duke has plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and agreed to pay $102 million in fines and  for illegally discharging pollution from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.

Recent studies are questioning the environmental effects of storing coal ash in basins, finding that water can leach from the cooling ponds and contaminate local drinking water aquifers. Groundwater samples taken in areas surrounding coal ash ponds have been found to have mercury, arsenic, chromium, and other hazardous metals.