Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The EPA gave an update on their triage efforts for the Coal ash spill on the Dan River / PAULA BRYANT: Keep the ban: Here’s why / Coal ash spill into the Dan River

PAULA BRYANT: Keep the ban: Here’s why

Last Updated on 07:54 AM 02/12/14
BY The Gazette-Virginian

Last week’s messy spill at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. spewed 82,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River strengthening opponents’ arguments of what might happen to area waterways if the moratorium on uranium mining is lifted in Virginia.
The spill was caused by a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe located underneath Duke’s unlined 27-acre, 155-million-gallon ash pond, ultimately draining an estimated 24 to 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River. 
A 48-inch slip-joint concrete and corrugated steel storm sewer line that runs under the ash pond failed, and liquefied ash flowed into the failed section of the line, and then to the Dan River.
The occurrence, the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history, made its way to Halifax County last week.
And all the apologies in the world can’t remove that gray sludge and its coal ash contaminants from the river.
It will take time, and lots of it, before the Dan will get back to the way it was before last week’s polluted spill.
All wish it had never happened and agree it is a catastrophic mess that has got to be cleaned up.
But I am a firm believer in things happening for a reason. Although it may take years to get the Dan River “back,” it’s not too late to learn a lesson from this fateful occurrence.
It would have been much worse had it been uranium tailings.
I’m no scientist and claim to know very little about the technology associated with uranium mining, but I do understand some about radioactivity and its impacts.
Typically, uranium mine tailings contain 80 to 85 per cent of the radioactivity of the ore itself — so the waste is almost as radioactive as the ore, and it stays around forever.
The radioactivity in the tailings includes the uranium decay product that has a half-life of thousands and thousands of years.
This is the timeframe over which uranium tailings dust and sludge pose a hazard to human health. Therefore, a vast amount of toxic, radioactive waste rock and dust is the legacy of any uranium mine.
And just like with the retired Duke Energy steam station’s coal ash, uranium tailings will be around long after all the uranium is mined from the ground in Southside Virginia.
It may be “safely” buried in lined containers underground, but accidents and natural disasters can and do happen. Earthquakes come to mind immediately.
Once such an incident occurs, all the apologies in the world will not be enough to put the uranium tailings back in the ground.
“This is a serious spill, and we need to get it under control as quickly as possible,” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said concerning the coal ash spill. “Our top priorities are ensuring the health and safety of the public as well as the wildlife in the Dan River vicinity and the river itself, and the best way to do that is to get this controlled and cleaned up.” 
 “We apologize. We apologize for the accident that happened at our Dan River site,” said Duke Energy President Paul R. Newton said. “Whatever it may be, you have our complete one hundred percent commitment to make it right. We take full responsibility.”
Let’s not face this scenario again … ever. 
Keep the ban on uranium mining.

Coal ash spill into the Dan River:   South Boston Town Council Monday night “authority drinking water is safe.”

Last Updated on 07:50 AM 02/12/14
BY Doug Ford

With a coal ash spill into the Dan River over a week old, Halifax County Service Authority Executive Director Mark Estes told South Boston Town Council Monday night “authority drinking water is safe.”
The ash spill occurred over a week ago when a 48-inch storm water pipe collapsed at a retired Duke Energy Steam Station in Eden, N.C., releasing an estimated 24 to 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River.
Estes said he has participated in conference calls at least three times a day since the spill occurred, adding authority drinking water is being tested every six hours.
Tests and chemical analysis of authority drinking water will continue until regulators “tell us everything is safe,” he added
Test results from a number of sources have come back very consistent with each other, Estes continued.
“We’re very fortunate the ash in the Dan River was something we can treat,” he explained. “We’ve had very good results with our filters, and it helped we were farther removed from the incident than Danville. By the time it got to us, it was diluted somewhat.”
Concerns now turn to the long-term effect the spill would have on the community’s water source and accompanying habitat, Estes said.
“The river color is pretty much back to normal, and the water is safe to drink. There’s no trouble with it at all,” Estes said, while telling council he fully intended to discuss with Duke Energy the recovery of costs associated with the spill.
Meanwhile in Richmond, Del. James Edmunds participated in a press conference in the General Assembly building Monday with the heads of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Health, Secretary of Health Dr. William Hazel and affected legislators to get the latest information available on the coal ash spill.
“While it appears the drinking water in South Boston remains safe, I am still following very closely the environmental aspects of this incident, especially on fish and wildlife.  It should be noted that the PCB warning issued by the Virginia Department of Health some time ago on catfish over a certain size is still in effect,” Edmunds said. 
“The leakage has been stopped, however the repercussions of this spill are not immediately apparent.  As for the current incident, while there is no immediate threat to consuming other fish such as crappie, the long-term effects are not quite as clear, and I would just simply use good common sense when deciding for yourself whether or not to eat it. Any measurable increase in methylmercury in fish would not occur immediately from this spill but could accumulate over time,” the delegate added.
He also urged caution when swimming in the Dan River this summer.
Duke Energy is preparing a plan for coal ash recovery from the river bank, pending approval by the Army Corp of Engineers, Edmunds said. 
The Department of Environmental Quality is scheduled to hold a public hearing in South Boston next week on the coal ash spill, and Edmunds encourages anyone with concerns to attend that meeting.

Duke Energy apologizes for Dan River ash spill

Star-Tribune Staff | Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 10:00 am 

DANVILLE — Duke Energy officials on Friday held an information session in Danville, where they issued an apology for the coal ash spill into the Dan River from its retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.

Duke also addressed environmental cleanup of the river, promising to “make it right.”

“I want to start with probably the most important statement that I will make today, and that is we apologize,” said Paul Newton, president of Duke Energy’s utility operations in North Carolina.

“We apologize for the accident that happened on the Dan River site. We are working 24 hours a day to permanently plug that leak,” Newton said. “You have our commitment to tirelessly work to do that. We have hundreds of people on site, including engineers, scientists and environmental experts.”
Newton said Duke is committed to cleaning up the river.

“Whatever it may be that is required of the river, you have our complete, 100 percent commitment to make it right. Have no question in your mind about that. We take full responsibility,” he said.
The 90-minute information session took place before a packed city council chambers. The meeting was arranged at the request of Duke Energy.

City Council members and city staff attended as well as concerned citizens and a dozen media outlets.

“All of us are concerned and we know we need information to understand what is happening and what needs to happen to continue to keep our citizens safe,” Mayor Sherman Saunders said.

City council members were less kind.

“I’m mad as hell,” Councilman Lee Vogler said. “Now, we have a river that’s 50 shades of gray. It’s a black eye for our area.”

Rawley asked if Duke Energy was going to vacuum the river and scrub the rocks like was done with the paper plants in Georgia.

Councilman Dr. Gary Miller also wondered about the cleanup.

“Letting it sit there doesn’t solve the problem,” Miller said. “That second basin, you’re letting it sit there. What assurances do you have that 10 years from now something won’t happen to it?”
On Feb. 2, a breach in a storm water pipe beneath the primary ash basin at the retired coal-fired plant caused a release of ash basin water and ash into the Dan River.

Newton said the breach occurred in a corrugated metal section of the pipe.

The plant is about 20 miles upstream from the city’s raw water intake.

“As much as we wanted it (the leak) to stop yesterday, life is not that simple,” Newton said. “Everybody wanted that leak to stop immediately, and all of our efforts were to stop that leak immediately.”

Newton said equipment first needed to be brought to the site.

“More importantly, you have to engineer things first,” Newton said. “You can’t just run out there and cap the ends and think you have it solved. … If you do that, you could make the problem worse. We have people working as quickly as we can, but as carefully as we can.”

Duke Energy is attempting to get as much water off the broken pipe as possible in order to allow excavation equipment to reach the pipe.

Once the pipe is exposed, the plan is to put plugs on either side of the pipe, Newton said.

“Today as we stand here, it’s much more stable,” Newton said. “We have a lot of the water volume off that pipe, off the breach, so there is not that head pressure that is pushing ash into the river.”
Newton said the plugs would be installed in the “near term.” With the plugs in place, the company will be in a position to permanently seal the pipe.

Though the pipe is not yet plugged, Newton said there is no leakage “as we stand here today.” He said there could be intermittent leakage until the plugs are in place.

The basins hold 992,000 tons of ash. Initial estimates are that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of ash were released into the river, Newton said.

In addition, 24 to 27 million gallons of ash basin water reached the river.

In comparison, Newton said a 2008 dam breech in Tennessee, spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of ash.
“Here, we are talking about 60 to 100,000 cubic yards,” Newton said.

“This is still a serious accident in our view,” Newton said. “It is a game-changer for our company with respect to how to manage an ash pond…. There are norms out there in the industry, but we are going to look at them differently as a result of this spill.”

He continued, saying, “We expect to have a lot of help with respect to how we mitigate these ash ponds, particularly here with Dan River. We welcome that.”

Federal and state agencies are on site, Newton said.

Newton emphasized that water sample tests by Duke Energy and independent facilities show the water is “perfectly safe to drink.”

Testing, which includes testing for heavy metals, will continue.

Danville Utilities is collecting water samples for testing. On Thursday, the city received test results that continue to show Danville’s water is safe to drink.

The test results are from raw water samples collected from the Dan River at the city’s intake on Tuesday by Danville Utilities.

The samples were sent to a Virginia-certified private lab. The lab tested the samples for the presence of heavy metals.

The lab found no detectable level of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, silver or selenium.

Low levels – all below public health standards for drinking water – of boron, calcium, copper, magnesium, sodium and zinc were found.

The level of iron in the raw water exceeded drinking water standards, but iron is easily removed in routine water treatment, said Barry Dunkley, division director of water and wastewater treatment for Danville Utilities.

Results on subsequent raw water and treated water samples collected and sent to the private lab will be made available to the public when they are received.

Duke Energy and Danville Utilities officials fielded questions from those in attendance for more than an hour.

A second set of test results from treated water collected from the city’s reservoirs continued to show Danville’s water is safe to drink.

Dunkley said Thursday the concentration of fly ash in the raw water drawn from the Dan River continues to decrease, and the city is continuing to successfully remove ash from the raw water.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to consistently deliver clean drinking water and maintain the public’s confidence that we are doing so,” City Manager Joe King said.

“Coming off the recent water contamination episode in West Virginia, people are understandably concerned and suspicious about assurances that water is safe to drink if contrary physical evidence (gray cloudy river water in our case) is apparent.”

Duke Energy Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good telephoned the mayor Thursday to apologize for the incident and bring him up to date on progress being made in stopping the leak.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring also telephoned Saunders and offered help if needed.

“I am closely monitoring the situation involving the coal ash spill in North Carolina and the potential impact on Virginia,” McAuliffe said. “I have directed the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and the Virginia Department of Health to continue to evaluate the quality and safety of the Dan River’s water supply. At this time the water supply remains safe for human consumption, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it progresses.”

 Herring said so far it appears Duke Energy is doing the “right things” in accepting responsibility for the spill and cleanup.

“I told city leaders that they and the people of Southside can count on me to help make sure Duke follows through on their word in the weeks and months ahead,” the attorney general said.

  Environmental groups dispatched teams to monitor the spill and are keeping a close eye on the river.

“From the initial reports of this catastrophe the following are apparent: Neither best practices and planning nor strict regulations can protect the public interest from spills, leaks, or releases of hazardous chemicals, uranium tailings, or similar detrimental materials,” said Andrew Lester, executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association.

“Not only are public water supplies threatened by these mishaps, but so are tourism, fishing, and the water-related recreational efforts by Dan River Basin Association, Roanoke River Basin Association and other groups,” Lester said.

“This is a massive disaster,” said Matt Wasson, director of programs for Appalachian Voices. “For two miles downstream, the river is dark and thick, a milky gray. It’s just eerie.”

Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina campaign coordinator, Amy Adams, said the spill illustrates why coal ash ponds should be lined.

“Although Duke has started using dry ash storage in lined landfills at some of its sites, many active and retired coal plants still have wet coal ash storage in large impoundments without liners,” said Adams, a former regional supervisor for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Add to that an aging system of stormwater collection pipes discharging directly to surface waters that provide drinking water downstream, and you have a recipe for disaster,” she said


Duke’s failure to lead
By Stephen Smith
Published in: Viewpoint

  After 18 months, we are gaining insight into how Duke Energy defines leadership.

Unfortunately, the trends to date in the four areas outlined below do not bode well for the new corporate leadership.

The third largest spill from a coal ash pond in U.S. history occurred last week at Duke’s Dan River plant near Eden.

Duke officials struggled for nearly a week to contain the leak, which has sent toxic coal ash into the Dan River, threatening public drinking sources downstream.

Several days into the spill, Duke Energy spokeswoman Lisa Hoffman said the company is looking for “alternatives” to their current coal ash management policies.

However, Duke has a record of aggressively lobbying against Environmental Protection Agency rules that would tighten coal ash management which, if enacted, would have prevented the type of disaster we are seeing unfold in real time. In the aftermath of a major disaster, claiming that you will consider implementing recommendations you have lobbied against in the past is not leadership.

Over the past few months it is becoming increasingly apparent that Duke will attempt to aggressively roll back policies that support solar power development in its service territory. Duke CEO Lynn Good and other Duke executives are now engaged in a broad campaign to mislead the public about the “cost” of net metering. Net metering allows customers who place solar power on their homes to use the power they generate to offset their electric bill. Ms. Good and other Duke executives have characterized these homeowners as taking advantage of low-income customers and not paying their fair share. This inflammatory and misleading information is particularly dubious given the fact that our organization and others have requested that Duke conduct a transparent Value of Solar analysis that would calculate the cost and benefits of customer-owned solar power to the grid. Every time there has been such an analysis conducted in a transparent manner, it has demonstrated that net metering is not only fair, but often underestimates the true value that solar systems provide to the grid. Duke Energy’s hidden agenda in attacking solar net-metering policy is the simple fact that customer-owned solar generation challenges their central utility business model. Just as telecommunications companies had to adjust to cellular phone technology or how digital cameras changed the way we take photographs, Duke should embrace the technological advancement that allows customer-owned solar power rather than feebly attempting to cling to a crumbling business model. This is not leadership.

Before the merger, Duke Energy appeared to want to move into a national leadership position on energy efficiency. In cooperation with stakeholders, including ourselves, Duke’s modified Save-a-Watt energy efficiency program looked to be an innovative way of helping customers save money while capturing real energy efficiency savings across their service territory. A number of utilities have achieved greater than 1 percent demand reductions on an annual basis, which over a 10-year period would lead to a 10 percent reduction in demand. As part of the merger settlement, Duke Energy promised to move in that direction. More than a year after that commitment was made, Duke continues to reinterpret the agreement and projects savings significantly lower than the 1 percent annual goal by 2022. Duke’s energy efficiency plan is less than half of what leadership utilities in other states are doing over the same period. This is not leadership.

Shortly after the merger with Progress, Duke announced it would shut down the crippled Crystal River 3 nuclear reactor in Florida. Progress Energy had structurally damaged the reactor’s containment vessel while replacing a steam generator during a botched repair procedure. We agreed with the decision to shut the reactor down, given the significant risk associated with operating a cracked containment vessel into the future. Following the decision to stop throwing good money after bad, it has been breathtaking to watch Duke gouge Florida customers due to the Crystal River 3 mismanagement. Essentially, the company put ratepayers on the hook for more than $1 billion, sparing its shareholders any significant financial responsibility. This is not leadership.

I would simply ask Lynn Good and other senior Duke Energy executives, is this the leadership we should continue to expect from the largest utility in the country?

EPA official says tests show Danville-area water is safe.