Another toxic spill is contaminating North Carolina’s coal-infested river

Arsenic and other chemicals are leaking into the Dan River at 14 times the level considered safe

Topics: North Carolina, coal ash spill, coal industry, duke energy, water safety, Contamination, arsenic, ,

<i>Another</i> toxic spill is contaminating North Carolina's coal-infested riverIn this Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 photo, Jenny Edwards, program manager for Rockingham County with the Dan River Basin Association, scoops coal ash from the banks of the river as state and federal environmental officials continued their investigations of a spill in Eden, N.C. Duke Energy estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash has been released from a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Recent history is repeating itself in all kind of awful ways today. Officials announced that the coal ash dump that leaked into North Carolina’s Dan River earlier this month, contaminating the water with arsenic and other toxic chemicals, has sprung a new leak that’s contaminating the water with arsenic and other toxic chemicals. From the Associated Press:

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered Duke to stop the flow of contaminated water coming out a pipe that runs under a huge coal ash dump at its Eden power plant. A nearby pipe at the same dump collapsed without warning two weeks ago, coating the bottom of the Dan River with toxic ash as far as 70 miles downstream.

State regulators expressed concern five days ago that the second pipe could fail, triggering a new spill. The water coming out of that pipe contains poisonous arsenic at 14 times the level considered safe for human contact, according to test results released by the state on Tuesday.

Unlike the ongoing water crisis in West Virginia, neither spill is believed to have threatened the safety of downstream drinking water. But this newest incident reflects horribly on Duke Energy’s refusal to heed years of warnings that placing its 31 ash ponds near a large body of water was a recipe for environmental disaster. And this time, the fish might not get off so easily. The AP again:



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday a massive pile of coal ash about 75 feet long and as much as 5 feet deep has been detected in the river by the site of the Feb. 2 spill. Deposits varying from 5 inches deep to less than 1 inch coated the river bottom across the state line into Virginia and to Kerr Lake, a major reservoir.

Federal authorities expressed concern for what long-term effect the contaminants will have on fish, mussels and other aquatic life.

…Officials said the coal ash is burying aquatic animals and their food. The ash, created when coal is burned to generate electricity, could also clog gill tissues in fish and mussels. The agency said public reports of dead aquatic turtles at two state parks in Virginia had not yet been verified by federal biologists.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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