Concerns remain about Dan River after coal ash spill / Experts say coal ash in Dan River a moving target / River dredging to begin next week / Columnist: Duke plant coal ash threatens our water
Concerns remain about Dan River after coal ash spill
Saturday, May 03, 2014Jon Camp
ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Exactly three months ago, 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River northwest of the Triangle.
That set off a chain of events that extends far beyond the river banks.
On the river, what you see depends on where you look.
The surface water, which is constantly flushed downstream, looks good and experts say often tests within EPA standards. But get down into the sediment and it appears to be a different story.
Brian Williams, a long-time river guide with the Dan River Basin Association, said the water doesn't look polluted.
"On the surface water, you're not going to see a lot of the contamination anymore because the sediments go down to the bottom," Williams said.
That's what Williams is most concerned about -- what's on the bottom. He dug through sediment churned up in recent rains.
"You can see this greyish material here -- that's coal ash, yeah," Williams said. "And then you can see there's nothing here. It's all mixed in and you see, that's the insidious thing about this."
Williams is keeping a close eye on mayflies near the river. Mayflies act as barometers of the river's health and predictors of what's to come.
"You can see the little gills going right there - that's the way they take in oxygen," Williams explained as he pointed at the fish. "So you can imagine with a little bit of sediment or a little bit of coal ash, these little guys can't even breathe. And then if one small minnow eats 50 of these and one bass eats 20 minnows, then you, know, you've magnified the effects of the toxins in there."
Duke Energy was responsible for the spill and has been vacuuming what ash it can off the bottom of the river. But that only works when there's a lot of ash in one place, and so far they've only removed a fraction of what spilled.
The upshot is they've been testing the water, and a spokesperson said Thursday that water quality has returned to precondition levels on the Dan River.
But Williams has his doubts.
"How do they know that?" he wondered. "That's the big question. I think it's not a responsible thing to say that the river is back to normal and it's clean. We're not saying you're seeing an acute effect right now, fish dying or anything like that, but we are saying it is affecting the environment. The material is still in the river. The material is still moving its way down the river and it's still causing the same problems."
Williams thinks there's coal ash two miles upstream of the plant. How can that be?
Experts say coal ash in Dan River a moving targetBy Taft Wireback (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record | Posted: Sunday, May 4, 2014 9:26 pm
EDEN, N.C. — Three months after the disastrous Dan River spill, experts say its potentially harmful coal ash is on the move in some places and burrowing into the muck in others.
They say both routes could pose long-term threats to the environment, stemming from the Feb. 2 spill at Duke Energy’s retired coal-fired plant in Eden.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Duke Energy and other members of a task force cleaning up the spill have found only a limited number of submerged coal ash deposits along the 70 miles of affected river, said Ken Rhame, an on-scene coordinator for the EPA who is monitoring the Dan River cleanup.
He did not want to make an off-the-cuff estimate of how many such clumps they have tallied, but Rhame said Friday evening that it was fewer than 25, including three relatively large ones that have been approved for dredging,
The rest of the huge spill apparently remains either suspended in the water as it migrates downstream or has settled into the river bed and surrounding areas in smaller concentrations.
“What we think has happened is that it’s commingling with a lot of the other suspended particulates that are in the river system,” Rhame said. “We’re finding some areas where it already has been covered by sediments. You may have a layer of coal ash that you find at a depth of 4 inches under the sediment.”
The good news is that so far, the Dan seems to have evaded or at least minimized the most immediate, dire consequences that river watchers had feared after a drainage pipe broke underneath a basin full of the toxic ash.
Duke Energy plans to begin vacuum dredging the largest single deposit of coal ash from the spill, a clump 1,000 feet long and 60 feet wide near a hydroelectric dam in Danville, Va., about 20 miles downstream from the spill.
That effort should start sometime this week, although preparations were slowed by recent heavy rains, Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said. The utility has apologized for the spill and promised to clean up the Dan at its own expense under the supervision of federal and state regulators.
The spill left behind a mixed bag of conditions, not the continuous coating of coal ash that some people might envision, Brooks said.
“As you can imagine, the Dan is a powerful and dynamic river,” he said. “As such, the material has been dispersed along the river in varying degrees.
“In some areas, we don’t find any coal ash at all. In others, a very thin deposit (lies) on top of or mixed in with the sediment. In some places, there are deposits of coal ash that are now covered over by sediment as part of the river’s natural circulation cycle.”
Duke Energy dredged up and safely disposed of a deposit much smaller than the one in Danville about two months ago. That deposit was located in Eden near the drainage pipe that ruptured at the shuttered Dan River Steam Station to cause the third largest coal-ash spill in U.S. history.
A large deposit farther downstream near Town Creek in Rockingham County will be dredged up and taken to a landfill in tandem with the Danville cleanup, officials say.
Removal work can’t get under way again soon enough, said Brian Williams, program manager with the nonprofit Dan River Basin Association advocacy group.
“It’s in the sediment. It’s moving with the sediment. It’s moving downstream,” Williams said of the coal ash. “When the river is 6 feet up and rolling red, that sediment is being picked up off the bottom and moved downstream.”
When he thinks of the Danville deposit — an estimated 2,500 tons near Schoolfield Dam — Williams recalls a huge “sand bar” of coal ash that appeared just downstream from the spill at the Eden plant right after the release.
That sand bar of coal ash is long gone now, but not because anybody cleaned it up, Williams said.
“It was tons and tons of coal ash,” he said. “The reason it’s gone now is because the river is dynamic. As it floods, it keeps pushing the ash downstream.”
Either way, it’s a heck of a lot. And a substantial amount will never be retrieved from the river.
“You’re not going to recover 100 percent of the spill,” Rhame said.
The EPA coordinator said his agency, Duke Energy and other members of the cleanup team are examining each of the clumps of coal ash they have found downstream to decide whether it makes sense to remove them or whether a removal effort would create more pollution at that specific location than it would prevent. In addition to officials from Duke and the EPA, the task force brings together members of several federal and state agencies, including both North Carolina and Virginia environmental departments.
“We are continuing to take samples at all locations to determine if the ash is accumulating, moving, being buried or being uncovered,” said Brooks of Duke Energy, adding that technicians are “modeling” the river in studies that aim to predict where it might take the ash.
Bound for Kerr?
Generally, coal ash behaves “much like any other sediment in the river,” Vengosh said.
Some of it will settle out of the water in deposits at the river’s bends and in other deeper, slower areas such as the pool behind the Danville dam. Another unknown amount will work its way more or less permanently into the riverbed, he and other experts said.
Scientists say it makes sense that the heaviest concentrations would be closer to the plant in the early going. But the general trend likely will see large amounts of ash migrating toward the mouth of Kerr Reservoir about 70 miles downstream, some predict.
“Once ash reaches Kerr Reservoir in significant amounts, which it will, exposure and toxicity to fish and wildlife in this ash deposition zone could be highly significant,” said Dennis Lemly, a Wake Forest biology professor and U.S. Forest Service scientist.
Along the way, ash will continue to settle out in small clumps or “pockets” in the Dan’s slower eddies, where rocks and other obstacles disrupt the river current, Lemly said.
“That’s what makes it so dangerous to fish and wildlife,” he said. “Those same (eddies) are where fish and wildlife congregate, feed and reproduce.”
When storms such as those that hit the Piedmont Triad last week disturb the river bottom, the settled ash could re-emerge in fresh bursts of pollution.
“If there are fish living there, suddenly you have a cloud of ash, and once again you have a problem,” Vengosh said.
The main threat stems from heavy metals and other ingredients in the coal ash, particularly selenium, known to damage various species’ ability to reproduce, said Lemly, who has devoted much of his career to studying how coal ash affects fish and other aquatic creatures.
Over the years, Lemly linked the ash and similar coal by-products to genetic deformities of the eyes, gills, spine and other body parts in fish, in addition to infertility.
“Time frame is important,” Lemly said. “It could take decades for this ash to fully move down river, if it ever does.”
Columnist: Duke plant coal ash threatens our waterBy Derb S. Carter Jr. | Posted: Saturday, May 3, 2014 10:39 pm
Duke Energy says it will move its polluting coal ash to safer storage away from our waterways to protect some communities, but not Fayetteville, Sanford, Dunn and Harnett County. Gov. Pat McCrory recently proposed legislation to require Duke Energy to remove coal ash to protect some communities, but not Fayetteville, Sanford, Dunn and Harnett County.
In February on the Dan River, we saw the terrible threat posed by Duke Energy's coal ash practices. Duke dumps its coal ash in outdated, unlined pits next to our rivers and drinking water, held back only by dikes made of soil that leak.
Just upstream of Sanford, Duke Energy stores nearly a billion gallons of wet coal ash in five unlined pits, next to the Cape Fear River. Every day, these pits contaminate groundwater with toxic substances. They leak polluted coal ash water into the Cape Fear River every day, and Duke was recently cited for illegally pumping 61 million gallons of polluted coal ash water into the river, and failing to maintain its dikes. The coal ash contains toxic substances we do not want in our rivers, our fish, our wildlife or our drinking water: arsenic, lead, manganese, selenium and boron, to name a few.
These coal ash dumps are always at risk of catastrophic failure, triggered by a flood, a tropical storm, or just age and neglect. In Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008, a dike broke. On the Dan River, an old storm-water pipe collapsed on a normal day. Duke has had multiple other dike breaks and failures at its coal ash lagoons across North Carolina in addition to the colossal spill on the Dan River this year.
Fayetteville, Sanford, Dunn and Harnett County all have drinking water intakes downstream of the Duke Energy Cape Fear coal ash dump. All of these communities are at risk of a Dan River catastrophe, which could have devastating consequences.
There is a simple solution. Duke can move this coal ash away from the river to safe, dry storage in a lined landfill or recycle it for concrete. That is what the other two utilities in the Carolinas are doing, just across the border in South Carolina, without raising customer rates. This is how you and I are required to dispose of our household garbage. Duke should take at least this step to protect our rivers and our drinking water.
Yet, Duke Energy has refused to commit to moving its coal ash away from the Cape Fear River, and neither our state environmental agency nor McCrory has required Duke to do it. Duke has promised to move its coal ash away from rivers in Asheville and Charlotte - but not at its Cape Fear Plant. Why is Duke turning its back on the Sandhills communities and the Cape Fear River?
The Cape Fear River is as important as other rivers. Fayetteville, Sanford, Dunn and Harnett County provide drinking water for over 340,000 residents from the Cape Fear River. Local residents enjoy it for boating, fishing and swimming. Raven Rock State Park, Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Cumberland County's Arnette Park and other public lands are located on its banks. It runs through the middle of towns. As it winds its way down to the coast, it is the source of drinking water for 460,000 more North Carolinians.
Ask Duke Energy and Governor McCrory: Why won't you do what is right for Fayetteville, Sanford, Dunn and Harnett County and the Cape Fear River? And ask your legislator to protect your river and your drinking water if Duke Energy and the governor don't.
Derb S. Carter Jr. is director of the North Carolina offices of the Southern Environmental Law Center and a Fayetteville native.
River dredging to begin next week
Friday, May 2, 2014 10:00 pm
Shareholders, protesters, speak out to Duke board
Thursday, May 1, 2014 8:06 pm
coal ash spill that coated 70-miles of a North Carolina River in toxic sludge.
NC treasurer voting Duke shares against director
NC treasurer voting Duke shares against director
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 6:05 pm
North Carolina's public pension funds, which own a piece of Duke Energy, will use their influence to try to force Duke's board of directors to bring in new blood and improve oversight of the cleanup of a massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of a river with toxic sludge, state Treasurer Janet Cowell said Wednesday.
City hiring specialist to handle ash claims
City hiring specialist to handle ash claims
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 7:39 pm
coal ash spill.