Tuesday, February 18, 2014

EPA Community Briefings on Dan River Coal Ash Spill

EPA Community Briefing on Dan River Coal Ash Spill.
Wednesday, Feb 19, at 6:30 pm in Eden, NC at the Town Hall, 308 E. Stadium Drive, 27288.
For more info, call Trish Taylor, EPA Region 3, at (215) 514-2732
EPA to host another coal ash spill community meeting
this Thursday: Feb 20  
at 6:30 pm at the Washington-Coleman Community Center
[1927 Jeffress Blvd South Boston, VA]
Reminder: Setback committee meeting Monday, Feb. 24th
to discuss spreading sludge to property lines thereby imposing buffers on adjoining property ownsers in Pittsylvania County.  Danville's municipal sludge is typically disposed (land applied) on farmland.  




Coal ash and fracking
Danville is an entire state away from the Fredericksburg region, but something that has happened near that Southside Virginia city, hard by the North Carolina border, has lessons for us here.
Duke Energy, the utility powerhouse in that area, built containment ponds just across the state line decades ago to hold coal ash, a byproduct from creating electricity. The ponds are alongside the Dan River, which eventually feeds into Kerr Lake, where a pipeline supplies water to Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake.
On Feb. 2, a pipe coming from one of the ponds sprung a leak. As much as 82,000 tons of ash poured into the river over several days. It is probably the third-largest ash spill in U.S. history.
The pipe was plugged, and there seems to be no major damage from this. Danville and other cities and towns downriver say their water plants have been able to filter out the arsenic, lead, iron and other elements that you wouldn’t want in your drinking water.
The holding pond wasn’t in use anymore, and the pipe had been there a long time. As is often the case in out-of-sight, out-of-mind issues, no one from either Duke Energy or the state of North Carolina seems to have been keeping a close eye on the pond.
We don’t have any coal ash impoundments around here, but this incident might make us think about a couple of other things: uranium and fracking.
There is a potential fortune in the red clay west of us, in the form of uranium. Where there is money, there is pressure, and forces have been trying and will continue to try to get the rights to dig up this precious mineral. If they prevail, there will be residue. We are promised that this residue, probably more toxic than coal ash, will be placed somewhere where we will never be bothered by it, forever.
There is another potential fortune to the east of us. Many believe hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will yield a considerable quantity of natural gas. As with uranium, those with a lot of gain from it will keep coming back, hoping for approval, promising that nothing will ever happen to the water table. Environmental groups think that’s a promise that can’t be guaranteed.

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014 6:30 am

Simple truth of the ash spill

The Editorial Boardgodanriver.com
By Joe King
  Two weeks ago today, a Duke Energy security guard discovered something wasn’t quite right at a coal ash basin that served the retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. That day, neither the guard — nor anyone at Duke Energy — knew exactly what had happened. We didn’t either until late Monday afternoon, nearly 24 hours later.
A great amount of information now has been amassed. It is available on our website — www.danville-va.gov. Today, everyone knows what happened that day was coal ash and ash basin water began spilling into the Dan River.
We take this incident very seriously. The overall health of the Dan River requires the expertise of state and federal agencies. We promise — working with state and federal agencies and our elected and appointed state and federal officials — to do our best to assess the overall health of the river and to hold Duke Energy accountable.
Our expertise is in delivering clean drinking water daily. It is our responsibility. Our water plant operators are highly trained.
The simple truth is this: At no point during this ash spill have we failed to deliver clean and completely safe drinking water.
Equally true is this: If at any point we had encountered a problem in delivering clean drinking water, then we would have stopped drawing water from the Dan River, and we immediately would have notified you — our customers.
In this column, I want to briefly share with you three things: what we knew and when, how we responded, and what we plan going forward.
What we knew and when
Two weeks ago today at approximately 5:30 p.m., Duke Energy called our Fire Department headquarters. At the time, we were told a Duke Energy employee had walked down to the river and visually saw ash on the bank but did not believe that it actually had reached the river. We notified our water plant operators.
That night at approximately 11, our water plant operators noticed increased turbidity in the water. Turbidity refers to the clarity or cloudiness of water due to the presence of suspended materials. We often encounter high turbidity during heavy rain events that send mud down the river. Just as we remove mud from the raw water during heavy rains, we successfully removed what we later determined was coal ash using our routine treatment process.
I repeat, no special treatment was required.
In addition to monitoring turbidity, we constantly test the water for pH (acidity) levels of the water we treat. Our operators are trained how to conduct these tests. The tests are important because they tell us if unwanted materials such as heavy metals and other particle-bound elements might be dissolving into our treated water.
We saw no change in pH levels.
The following day at approximately 8 a.m., Duke Energy advised us that it had a full investigative team on site at its steam station and knew that ash was in the river, but did not know how much product had spilled.
At 3:45 p.m. that day, we participated in a conference call with Duke Energy officials and emergency management officials from both North Carolina and Virginia. It was during this call that Duke Energy first told us of the full extent of the spill.
How we responded
Immediately following the Monday afternoon call, we issued a public statement to inform and reassure citizens that we were managing the situation and were confident that all treated water entering the distribution system met public health standards. Our statement was released in conjunction with a news release from Duke Energy.
Numerous North Carolina, Virginia, and federal agencies initiated water and soil tests on Feb. 3. We constantly test water at every phase during our treatment process. Though confident that we were delivering clean drinking water, we began collecting our own water samples to test — out of an abundance of caution — for the presence of heavy metals. We sent these samples to a Virginia certified private lab.
All test results we have received confirm that the water leaving the city’s treatment facility meets public health standards for the parameters tested. Tests conducted by Duke Energy and state and federal agencies have yielded results consistent with our tests.
John Aulbach, director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water, has issued the following statement to the media: "Danville Utilities has done a great job taking care of this."
I wholeheartedly agree.
Our response also has been to remain in constant communication with Duke Energy, state and federal agencies and our elected local, state and federal leaders.
Using our City Council chambers, we have hosted two community meetings. The first meeting was conducted Feb. 7 by Duke Energy. The second meeting was conducted earlier this week by the EPA, and it included at least 15 non-city experts from state and federal agencies.
As an added note, we insisted that River City TV be allowed to broadcast and stream both meetings live. The archived videos from those meetings are available at RiverCityTv.org.
We insisted because we wanted to be transparent.
What we plan going forward
Duke Energy has said it will be accountable, and we expect it to honor that commitment.
Daily, we see state and federal officials in our city working to make certain our citizens are safe during these unfortunate times. We will continue to monitor the progress of those agencies.
As we have been from the beginning, we will continue to be transparent as daily we go about delivering clean drinking water. You have our word that we will notify you — our customers — immediately when we encounter any problem in delivering clean drinking water.
We delivered clean drinking water during the coal ash spill, and we continue to do so.
Our transparency extends in carrying out our promise – working with state and federal agencies and our elected and appointed state and federal officials – to assess the overall health of the Dan River and to hold Duke Energy accountable.
That is the simple truth.

King is city manager of Danville. He wrote this commentary for the Register & Bee.

Scenic River designation likely not in danger

Posted: Monday, February 17, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 8:15 am, Mon Feb 17, 2014. Scenic River designation likely not in danger

By DENICE THIBODEAUdthibodeau@registerbee.com(434) 791-7985newsadvance.com

Last year, a team from the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation paddled canoes and kayaks up the Dan River from Berry Hill Bridge to Abreu-Grogan Park and decided to back local officials’ efforts to get the 15-mile stretch of the river officially named a “Scenic River” by the Virginia General Assembly.
  In October, that designation came through and the non-profit Scenic Virginia recognized the designation in November.
  Now, with tons of coal ash turning the river a sickly greenish-gray after the Feb. 2 spill at Duke Energy’s closed Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., will that designation hold?

Lynn Crump, an environmental program planner with Conservation and Recreation, said there are 13 criteria that have to be met to gain the designation and water quality is one of them — but if the effect is being worked on and will ultimately clear up, the designation will be kept.
“Water quality is one that is based on trash and turbidity [cloudiness],” Crump said. “I understand turbidity has been caused but will eventually pass through.”

However, if more than one criterion is affected — such as water quality and the elimination of any rare of endangered species as a result of the spill — the designation could become shaky.

New studies would have to be made, but the department won’t initiate that unless Danville and Pittsylvania County officials, the board of Conservation and Recreation or the General Assembly requests one, Crump said.

Crump said Halifax County is scheduled for a study of its section of the Dan River this spring to see if it qualifies to be named a Scenic River, and the impact of the spill might affect that.

Again, Crump stressed that getting the designation doesn’t rely on just one of the criteria, and that a combination of scenic, cultural, natural and historic criteria have to be met.

“It will be interesting to see what the impacts are [of the coal ash spill] on the Halifax section,” Crump said.

Leighton Powell, executive director of Scenic Virginia, said that while it is possible to lose a Scenic River designation, this spill appears to be something that can be fixed.

“I don’t think a disaster like this would do that [cause a river to lose the designation],” Powell said.
Danville City Councilman Lee Vogler said he is relieved that the spill won’t mean automatic loss of the Scenic River designation.

“So many people worked really hard to promote the river and get the designation,” Vogler — who campaigned for the designation as part of his election platform — said. The river is a big part of our lives here; it was and is a passion of mine and I’m watching it [efforts to remediate the damage caused by the spill] carefully.”

Posted: Monday, February 17, 2014 12:00 am
"On the whole, however, the members of the General Assembly remain far more inclined to restrict your right to know than to expand it." 
Comment: This is criminal.

Today’s top opinion: Report card

This year lawmakers at the General Assembly introduced a passel of bills affecting the public’s right to know. Most of them deal with the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Roughly half of them would expand FOIA; roughly half would restrict it.
  That looks like a fairly even split. But the Assembly’s collective attitude seems much more sour at the output end of the sausage factory.

With only a couple of exceptions – one relating to the State Corporation Commission and another ordering up a study of FOIA exemptions – bills that would expand the law were carried over, passed by, left in committee, tabled and subjected to other synonyms for “killed.”

On the other hand, bills to constrict FOIA – usually by carving out yet more exemptions – have won passage, often by huge margins. The two exceptions: an exemption from FOIA for records of investigations by local inspectors general, and a bill that would have let Lottery winners stay anonymous.
One bright spot relates to a slightly different issue: public notices in local newspapers. The annual attempts to remove them failed once again this year, albeit despite considerable pressure from advocates. On the whole, however, the members of the General Assembly remain far more inclined to restrict your right to know than to expand it. We will continue to keep a gimlet eye on them. You should, too.


COMMUNITY VOICE: ‘Leaving it alone’ should not be option
By Anne Cockrell
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following e-mail was sent to Danville City Council members).

You truly have a huge toxic mess to deal with regarding Sunday’s (Feb. 2) coal ash spill into the Dan River. I can appreciate the seriousness of the spill, as I, and many, many others, have spent the last six-plus years trying to prevent a potential spill from ever occurring near the headwaters of the Roanoke and Banister Rivers, namely from the proposal to mine and mill uranium.

I truly do appreciate your pushing Duke Energy President Paul Newton for answers at the public meeting held last Friday (Feb. 7).

I was unable to attend this meeting, but I did read some of the reported commentary.

What is so disturbing to me is to learn Newton stated that “making it right” might be to “leave it alone” and that the water is “safe before and after the filtration system.”

Question by Councilman Lee Vogler: What does “making it right mean?” That depends on what is best for the environment, Newton responded. It may be to leave it alone or dredge it.

Questions: Is the water safe? “It is safe before and after the filtration system,” Newton said. He said he drank the water, and “It tasted great. I’m not concerned about the drinking water in Danville, Virginia.


Duke Energy: ‘We apologize.’

(Danville Register & Bee, Feb. 7)
“Leaving it alone” should not be an option.

The fact that highly toxic coal ash (a volume large enough to fill up 32 Olympic-sized swimming pools) has spilled into and polluted the Dan River should make for a carefully addressed and closely monitored environmental issue.

That conveyed, I do realize it will take time for the completion of environmental assessments to determine the amount of damage done to the Dan River’s ecosystem and a future game plan developed to get remediation underway. Just, please don’t take Duke Energy’s assurances that the Dan River’s water is “safe” to consume.

Financially, it’s in Duke Energy’s best interests to say everything is A-OKAY with the river. The pictures of the coal ash sludge on the riverbanks and everything it comes in contact with tells me otherwise.

And I do realize the city is doing its own water testing, but how complete are those tests? What compounds are being tested for? Where are the water samples being taken? At the water treatment plant or other source sites? (I understand there are four sites.) http://www.danville-va.gov/index.aspx?NID=676

Does Duke Energy know what the long-term consequences will be for the Dan River, its ecosystem and the human and animal creatures using it for drinking water? At least the citizens of Danville will get filtered water. The fish and other creatures won’t fare so well.

I believe every effort should be made to remove the toxic slime residue off the Dan’s riverbanks and hauled somewhere other than the source point of contamination. This action should be repeated as often as necessary.

The source point of the contamination (in Eden, N.C.) should be removed as soon as possible, too. It is an unstable coal ash repository that was noted to be unsafe years ago. Please push for its removal to prevent another spill from occurring in the future.

I don’t know what the answer is regarding the removal of the coal ash sludge out of the Dan River, but I suspect Newton would love to just leave this mess at the bottom of the river-- you know, let time and Mother Nature take care of this toxic spill.

I feel Duke Energy will look for the cheapest way to deal with the “cleanup.” And it seems “the experts” will come in and call the shots, as far as Newton is concerned. Let’s be sure these experts are not at the beck and call of Duke Energy.

Question: Can the Dan River really be cleaned up?

I beg you to see that every effort is made to make sure the cleanup is done as expediently and completely as possible. And if it takes years to get this right, then so be it-- the citizens of Danville (and beyond) deserve to have safe drinking water. Please see that Duke Energy makes good on its assertion that it’ll be here for as long as it takes, in order to cleanup its mess.

Bottled water should be brought in for city residents — any resident/business that feels its drinking water has been compromised or is now suspect — at Duke Energy’s expense.

Again, has the city’s drinking water been tested for an exhaustive list of heavy metals? What are all the compounds? Do they include radionuclides? I ask this because the burning of coal (as was done at the now closed plant, adjacent to the spill) creates residuals that are radioactive. Even in trace amounts, these contaminants can build up over time in the body and cause problems later (sometimes decades later), which is usually the case with ingested/inhaled radioactive particles.

For that reason, I really question whether children should now be allowed to drink from Danville’s water supply.

From the website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
Burning coal in boilers to create steam for power generation and industrial applications produces a number of combustion residuals. Naturally radioactive materials that were in the coal mostly end up in fly ash, bottom ash and boiler slag. These residuals are called TENORM--Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials--because burning removes the coal’s organic constituents, concentrating the trace amounts of naturally occurring radionuclides: uranium, thorium, potassium, their radioactive decay products including radium. (The amount of radium in coal can vary by more than two orders of magnitude depending upon the type of coal and where it was mined.)

Gentlemen, I am no expert on the cleanup of toxic sludge spills, but I beg of you to be vigilant and proactive in getting the Dan River back to the way it should be. It’s been said the Dan River is an economic draw to future businesses. If so, this “economic draw” has just suffered a setback.

The Dan River’s life-sustaining flowing water has been severely compromised and may require years, maybe decades, to return to its former baseline. Please do everything you can to ensure the Dan River is returned to at least its baseline state. Please do everything you can to ensure the health and well being of Danvillians are maintained.

Anne Cockrell lives in Danville.