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East of Eden: NC Toxic Coal Ash Spill Defies State Borders

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View Lisa Evans's blog posts
10 February 2014, 3:03 PM
Hellish coal ash mess in North Carolina is Virginia’s problem, too
Coal ash-contaminated water in the Dan River. (Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance)

The Feb. 2 coal ash spill at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Plant in Eden, NC is now a big problem for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The public drinking water intake for Danville, VA is only six miles downstream of the spill in the Dan River, where the plant released 82,000 tons of toxic coal ash and 27 million gallons of tainted water.

Duke’s coal ash turned the river gray for 20 miles east of the North Carolina border. About 7,200 pounds of arsenic entered the river, as well as other deadly metals. Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring promised that he would hold Duke responsible for the cleanup.

Duke's coal ash turned the river gray for 20 miles east of the North Carolina border. (Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance)Duke's coal ash turned the river gray for 20 miles east of the North Carolina border. (Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance)

On Saturday, after nearly a week of failed efforts, Duke finally plugged the 4-foot diameter pipe through which ash poured into the river. But no cleanup has begun, and the long-term impacts of the spill on the health of the Dan River are unknown. There is hard work ahead, Duke admits. The 58-year old unlined lagoon still contains nearly a million tons of toxic waste, rendering it essential to stabilize the 27-acre dump on the riverbank and eventually remove the ash to protect the river and downstream communities from further injury.

This is not the first time that a major coal ash spill crossed state lines. In 2005, 100 million gallons of coal ash and water from the PPL Martin Creek Power Plant in Bangor, PA poisoned the Delaware River with arsenic in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, requiring the temporary shutdown of a public water supply plant. The massive spill could not be contained for four days, and ash covered riverbanks in both states.

Such disasters are likely to happen again. Most of the nation’s coal ash ponds are built on rivers and lakes where their failure threatens neighboring states—whose citizens have absolutely no control over the maintenance of the toxic dumps. The current patchwork of inadequate state regulation means that utilities can build dangerous dumps in a state with lax rules, with disasters having dire consequences across the border. Thus when the Governor of North Carolin, a former Duke executive, refuses to rigorously enforce environmental requirements, the citizens of Virginia are threatened as well.

Another good example is NIPSCO’s 2002 dumping of 175,000 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan from its D.H. Mitchell plant in the coal-friendly state of Indiana, about a dozen miles from the Illinois border. Illinois residents had no say in the dumping from the Gary, Ind. plant. The only way to protect all Americans is for the EPA to establish a national standard for coal ash disposal and dam safety.

For 75 years, U.S. coal-burning power plants have enjoyed a free pass from federal rules. Consequently billions of tons of toxic ash are stored in earthen dams on our waterways. The pigeons are now coming home to roost, as these aging structures begin to fail. EPA’s final rule securing hundreds of dams and landfills cannot come soon enough for the protection of all American communities.

Sign on the Dan River. (Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance)

No cleanup of the coal ash has begun, and the long-term impacts of the spill on the health of the Dan River are unknown. (Photo courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance)

Environmentalists or groups their of that are attempting to protect the earth air, ground and water. With all of it's information of what can be done to start getting the regulations and laws set to protect mother earth. ARE ALL FOR NOTHING...

ALL DUE TO WE THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND OF THE PEOPLE'S lack of getting informed and fighting for current and future biodiversity of our planet's life.

So why even make a report of people that are going intensify the past and current lack of our environmentalists concerns when no one seem to care enough to make our planet safer?!?

In another words, why not all American Citizens start to support the political figurers that will speed up destruction of our planet so that the environmentalists and the politicians that had been silent and not actively voicing their environmental policy concern FEARING THE MAJOR OIL. GAS, COAL INDUSTRIES retributions against what is good for our planet can be rewarded with the nature's impact in addition to WHAT IS GLOBAL WARMING!?!

Yeah, we are not feeling the impact of ALEC and it's nation STATE POLICY NETWORK of the TeaPublicons in every political regions of our nation. Stay Asleep!!!! Dreaming what could have been, is and will be!!!

For more info, watch this report from MSNBC:

Also, here's the story from AP:

I think the lack of success here is the fact that the prospects of a relatively small citizens group trying to sue a Duke -- a multi-BILLION dollar energy giant, is fairly hopeless. Especially when the government sides with the polluter!

A better approach would be for a national environmental organization to take on North Carolina's DENR, instead of Duke.

The real problem is with environmental enforcement. The McCrory administration and the NC DENR is where the blame lies. No one in any NC government agency is going to adequately address this problem on their own.

I would like to see Earthjustice get involved here! How about it, people?!

I strongly feel ANY settlement with DENR or Duke Energy include measures to eliminate coal burning. Convert the 14 present coal burning power generation plants to natural gas as part of any agreement. This would be both cheaper and more quickly accomplished than rebuilding lined ash basins. While natural gas does produce carbon it is at least cleaner than coal.

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