Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Virginia's response to coal ash spill targets long-term health of Dan River - Chatham Star Tribune: News

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 4:00 pm        

Virginia’s environmental evaluation of the Dan River following the coal ash spill in North Carolina continues to focus on potential long-term effects on water quality and aquatic life in the river, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality said this week.

Sampling results of the treated drinking water for Virginia localities that use the Dan River have consistently met or exceeded all applicable federal and state standards, and there are no public health concerns with drinking water, according to DEQ.

Duke Energy reported the spill of 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river from its retired coal-fired power plant in Eden, N.C., on Feb. 2.

State officials said the release of coal ash into the river has been halted, and removal of ash deposits in the river is under way.

“In Virginia, we are focusing now on the health of the Dan River over the long term,” said DEQ Director David K. Paylor. “We intend to hold Duke Energy fully accountable. It is likely that several years of monitoring will be required, and we want to ensure that people and the environment remain protected.”

DEQ is coordinating the Virginia state agency response and has taken the following actions:
Compiled historical monitoring data and drafted a summary of water quality conditions on the Dan River from before the spill to enable comparison with post-spill conditions.

Collected water and sediment samples from the North Carolina line to an area west of South Boston. No violations of Virginia’s water quality standards have been found, and sample collections are continuing.

Coordinated with local water treatment facilities and the Virginia Department of Health to ensure the ongoing safety of public water supplies. The drinking water quality has not been impaired and remains safe.

Collected fish samples from the river to evaluate for metal contaminants. A summary of findings is expected soon.

Coordinated with the health department on the posting of signs along the river advising limited contact with coal ash.

Reviewed records and current conditions at coal ash impoundments in Virginia.

Initiated plans for assessment of water quality, aquatic life and habitat in the river.

The health department recommends that local fish consumers follow the existing advisory for mercury and PCBs (no more than two meals per month for certain fish species).

Based on pending results, the health department will determine whether existing fish consumption advisories need to be updated.

Catch-and-release fishing remains safe.

Virginia’s long-term efforts will include a cooperative state and federal monitoring plan to identify impacts to bottom-dwelling organisms that form the base of the food chain in the river.

The study also will identify effects on fish and possible bioaccumulation of metals in fish tissue.
Also last week, Danville Del. Danny Marshall facilitated a second meeting to update legislators and the public about the status of the Dan River contamination, which has moved downstream to affect Virginia waters for more than 30 miles.

Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward and several agency representatives gave updates and answered questions.

Joining Marshall in the Richmond discussion were Delegates Les Adams, James Edmunds, Ed Scott, Tony Wilt, and Tommy Wright, along with Senators John Cosgrove and Frank Ruff.

In addition to Ward and Paylor, those providing detailed information Dr. David Trump, acting chief deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Health; John Aulbach II, director of drinking water; Bob Duncan, director of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries; David Whitehurst, director of wildlife resources; and John Daniel, office of the attorney general.

“We must do our best to recover from this damage and to be constantly vigilant to detect future problems,” Marshall said. “I appreciate our state agencies reacting quickly, making this a top priority and keeping us informed.”

According to Ward, DEQ workers have been on site since the incident was reported. She said there have been attempts to recover ash, but the river has been so high and turbulent, that most of the ash dispersed.

Ward said Virginia is expecting Duke Energy to take full responsibility for the spill.

“There will be enforcement actions and civil penalty,” the secretary said.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring met with representatives of Duke Energy last week to discuss the coal ash spill and the status of the clean-up effort.

“My top priority as attorney general will always be the health and safety of every resident of the commonwealth,” Herring said. “I met with Duke Energy today to learn more about what caused this spill, what Duke is doing to prevent future incidents, and how they plan to take responsibility for the short- and long-term consequences that may come from this.