The lowdown (and I do mean low) on the Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill.

Enough coal ash to fill 73 Olympic-sized swimming pools spews into Dan River.


The Dan River turned grey with coal ash on Monday, February 3, 2014

Where to begin…there’s so much to report in this big mess. On February 3, Duke Energy announced that a drainage pipe under the 27-acre coal ash pit at their Dan River plant in Eden, North Carolina had broken and was discharging coal ash directly into the Dan River, which is the drinking water source for Danville, Virginia. Duke estimated 83,000 tons of coal ash and contaminated water spilled into the river. In public comments, Duke said it was highly surprising that a reinforced concrete pipe would break. Not long after, Duke engineers discovered that the pipe under the ash basins was actually corrugated metal, not concrete as they had originally thought. Keep in mind that all the while Duke Energy’s website touted the “robust” monitoring they were conducting on all their ash ponds. Monitoring so robust they didn’t even know what kind of material the pipe was made of.

Duke and DENR’s Damaged Credibility 

That was just the first of Duke Energy’s mixed up messages to the public. Next, Duke assured the public that the water in the Dan River was safe. Even when environmental groups like Appalachian Voices and the Waterkeeper Alliance were getting test results that did show contamination, Duke Energy and North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NC DENR) assured the public that all their testing was within normal ranges. NC DENR actually collaborated with Duke on their testing. No one explained what this collaboration actually entailed. Did DENR just let Duke do the testing and report their results? Did they actually work together to make sure the desired results were reported? It makes you wonder why a regulatory agency would collaboratively test alongside the industry it is supposed to be monitoring. What’s more, they chose to draw their samples from two miles down the river where the contamination would not be as concentrated.

DENR says “Oops!”

A few days later, we find out there was contamination two miles down the Dan River from the spill when DENR tested. In a report released Friday night DENR said they made a mistake reading their results. Dianne Reid, a section chief of the department’s Division of Water Resources, says she made the error and that there was no effort to conceal the results. So we are supposed to believe that the “section chief” for water resources for North Carolina’s environmental agency didn’t know there were different standards for arsenic for marine life and human consumption. Seriously? DENR’s message to the public: We aren’t corrupt, just incompetent. I bet bottled water sales are skyrocketing in Danville.

Charlotte, we just received our wake up call.

There are eerie parallels between the coal ash ponds on the Dan River and the ones here on the shores of Mountain Island Lake. Both were built in the 1950s. Both are unlined, allowing contaminates to seep into groundwater and the river/lake. Both are situated on the banks of a drinking water source. But here’s the scary part. The ash ponds here on Mountain Island Lake are about four times (yes, FOUR TIMES) as large as the ones on the Dan River. They’re also about half the distance to the water intake, meaning less water to disperse contaminates before they reach the big straw that sucks it up and delivers it to your kitchen sink. And our utility serves 860,000 people, whereas Danville’s provides water to about 43,000.

As Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center said, “There was no earthquake. There was no flood. There was no hurricane. It’s just a failure of Duke’s design and routine maintenance.

What can you do?

Start here and sign the letter to Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good.

Watch this video from MSNBC and share it on your Facebook page, your Twitter feed. Make some noise. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of waiting and hoping Duke Energy and our North Carolina regulators will do the right thing. It’s time we take this into our own hands.

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