Coal ash spill into the Dan river; hideous

From Grist‘Duke Energy’s coal-ash spill has utterly ruined a river’


Experts have only just started getting a handle on the environmental and health impacts of Sunday’s spill of tens of thousands of tons of toxic coal ash from a shuttered coal plant in North Carolina. But you don’t need to be an expert to see that the spill into Dan River has done a lot of damage.  The pictures, videos, and personal accounts of the spill are astonishing in their grotesqueness. The AP reports:

An Associated Press reporter canoed downstream of the spill at the Dan River Steam Station and saw gray sludge several inches deep, coating the riverbank for more than two miles. The Dan had crested overnight, leaving a distinctive gray line that contrasted with the brown bank like a dirty ring on a bathtub.

[Brian] Williams, a program manager with the Dan River Basin Association, worried that the extent of the damage might not be fully understood for years.

“How do you clean this up?” he said, shaking his head as he churned up the ash with his paddle. “Dredge the whole river bottom for miles? You can’t clean this up. It’s going to go up the food chain, from the filter feeders, to the fish, to the otters and birds and people. Everything in the ecosystem of a river is connected.”

Before the spill, Duke Energy had insisted that its coal-ash dump sites posed no environmental threats. Now the company is still trying to figure out how to plug the gaping hole in a pipeline that allowed coal residue to flood out of holding ponds and into the river. From Bloomberg:

Duke’s priority is to stop the leak, Meghan Musgrave, a spokeswoman for the largest U.S. utility owner in Charlotte, said yesterday in a telephone interview. The rate of spillage declined Feb. 4 after the pond emptied and has fluctuated since then because of rain and repairs, Musgrave said. Duke estimates that the pond contained 992,000 tons of ash and that about 10 percent has spilled, she said.

From the Business Journal:

‘The Waterkeeper Alliance says it found arsenic and other heavy metals at up to 30 times the Dan River’s normal levels in samples taken Tuesday near the coal ash spill from Duke Energy’s closed Dan River Steam Station.

Donna Lisenby, the alliance’s Global Coal Campaign coordinator, says she took samples near the river bank at the location of the pipe that broke Sunday and sent up to 82,000 tons of ash into the river. At that point, the ash still formed a plume that hugged the bank, she says.

She took more samples two miles farther down stream, where the ash had dispersed and turned the river gray. She also took samples up river of the spill to establish the normal levels of pollutants in the river.

The samples were tested by a certified water quality laboratory, and the results came back Thursday.

“Compared to the levels found in a ‘background’ water sample taken upstream of the spill, arsenic levels immediately downstream of the spill are nearly 30 times higher, chromium levels are more than 27 times higher, and lead levels are more than 13 times higher because of Duke Energy’s coal ash waste,” the alliance said in a release issued Thursday.

The arsenic level, the alliance says, was greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water-quality criteria to protect “fish and wildlife from acute risks of injury or death.”

Lead and other contaminants also exceeded federal guidelines, according to the alliance.

Lisenby says her organization is not disputing test results Duke has released from the municipal water intakes for Danville, Va., and South Boston, Va., which are miles farther downstream from where she took her samples.’

Charlotte Observer:

‘“While it is early in the investigation and state officials do not yet know of any possible impacts to water quality, staff members have been notifying downstream communities with drinking water intakes,” the North Carolina environmental agency reported late Monday afternoon.

Danville, Va.’s water intake is about 6 miles downstream of the pond.
Barry Dunkley, the city’s water director, said in a release that “all water leaving our treatment facility has met public health standards. We do not anticipate any problems going forward in treating the water we draw from the Dan River.”
A 1-billion gallon spill of ash slurry at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Tennessee in 2008 ignited national debate over coal ash.
Last week the EPA, which had been sued by two North Carolina environmental groups among others, said it would issue the first federal rules on ash-handling by December.
Duke has closed seven of its 14 North Carolina coal-fired power plants, including Dan River, and is evaluating ways to close the ash ponds at those sites. Groundwater contamination has been found around all 14 of its unlined ash ponds, although much of the contamination may occur naturally.

Ash ponds are at the Allen power plant in Gaston County near Belmont and at the Riverbend plant on Mountain Island Lake near Mount Holly.
North Carolina environmental officials, pressured by advocacy groups, sued Duke last year over ash handling at all its coal plants. Environmentalists say Duke should remove the ash from the retired ponds, as utilities in South Carolina have agreed to do.’

19 responses to “Coal ash spill into the Dan river; hideous

  1. Heard a guy call in on late night radio talking about this, he said the ponds are everywhere. He was saying worry about Fukushima, why not do something about this right here now.

    But we don’t need regulations.

    It’s weirdly comical to hear tv news, and politicians trying to discuss these things in a way that is acceptable to everyone, especially to their patrons.

    Let’s call it the

    “It’s all fine, it’s really terrible,
    but there’s no reason to be alarmed,
    they’re getting right on it, not available to comment,
    company complied with the law,
    company out of business,
    they don’t understand
    how this could happen,
    they’ll make sure steps are taken,
    it’s very rare,
    nobody could have foreseen”


  2. and woe to any living creature aside from people, in the vicinity of that poison.

  3. it just goes on; i dunno if the folks in west virginia all have drinking water yet. (not that much of the bottled water isn’t crap)

    nice blues riff snark, though. shoot, this company is rather famous for it.

    here’s another hideous story from the four corners; this, in addition to the one about the asshole who was smelting gold right at the edge of town. but hey, epa says: it’s all good; we’ll just cover the or he’d brought in, cover em up a bit. can’t say there was harm to the neighbors!’ hell, no; they don’t wanna have another site to clean up. same with the east mancos river he and his gold-fevered friends ruined with arsenic to leach the gold outta the red arrow mine tailings piles. grrrrrrr.

  4. “Inspection from 2009 shows North Carolina ash basin had “significant hazard potential” Environmentalists say coal ash is deadly for fish.

    with accompanying video

  5. Mr Peabody didn’t haul it all away, except for the profits and the future prospects for sustained life in the region.

    Thanks for the post wendyedavis.

    Patiently waiting for a hint of spring. Lengthening daylight is welcomed. Cleaned off the seed starting bench. Every little thing is important in its own way.

    Could I manage again without computer or internet access? I ask the question to remember my priorities. Re-reading Mr Lakoff the last week or so. Message, messaging, messenger, not satisfied with my abilities.

  6. yes, and ‘when i die let my ashes…float down the green river…let my soul run on up to the rochester dam; i’ll be half-way to paradise… well, you know the rest.

    don’t remember george lakoff much, but i have faith that your abilities are just fine, nonquixote. but given that i fret about my own so much, or about what difference i make in any way, i do hear you. but i do know that it’s far too easy to feel miniscule in the face of so many mega-adversaries. and yet… :)

    be well, and sleep well. there’s a lot to do yet, and the small things, as you say, are very important. getting things ready to start seeds, for instance. :)

  7. Here’s a possible explanation:

    But, press On, REGARDLESS; if one does not try, the results are certain be 0.

  8. okay; i googled and found lakoff’s contentions at wisconsin grassroots’ website. mmmm; okay. that may have been some of what my swiss cheese matter was straining to remember, as someone on a recent thread somewhere (lol) had accused him of ‘blaming the victim’. i dunno.

    but an interesting video, bruce. yes to confirmation bias and much more there, including: keep saying your truth (i do have occasional problems with ‘the truth’ framing. social scientists say that for good or ill, once 5% of a population believes something, it becomes part of the zeitgeist. (as in: the 99% v. 1% meme, not that it’s translated into enough *action*.

    the author has some or more ‘respect for the media’??? the media are largely to blame for apathy, ignorance, and propaganda, so… eeek!

    sorry for no new content here on my part. RL has been er…busy, and yesterday i spent all my laptop time on kit oconnell’s occupy twitter post at fdl.

    i’m working on a DEA parallel construction one that may be almost too redundant, but the visuals seem worth bringing it; who knows?

  9. Thank you wendye. When it comes to ash, which is an important component of potash, coal ash is definitely not the way to go – hence in my fireplace no coal because I use my ashes. This is a heartbreaking story – couldn’t help being reminded that Duke University is Charlie Rose’s alma mater – he the neocon/neolib supporter. I’m sure he loves North Carolina, so would this be a wakeup call to him? The country is losing its potable drinkingwater and ecology thanks to the nonstart on environmental issues since the Dems supposedly ‘took charge.’

    Boy, I can’t understand TarheelDem’s soft spot for Obama, at the same time as I can’t criticize since he, Tarheel, has most certainly walked the walk.

    [Speaking of intimidation, which I wasn’t, I find myself intimidated by FDL’s big “FG” sign in logo. ‘Nuf said on that site. And here my logo has come up automatically. I guess we are all in the soup, eh?]

  10. dunno if it might be a wakeup call to mr. rose, juliania. his ilk seem to believe that they are exceptional enough to escape the privations of moderately clean drinking water, safe foods, breathable air, healthy soil micronutrients. i dunno; it’s crazy. and i don’t think that there’s any sort of viable filter in treatment plants to get rid of heavy metals, either. some home units, yes, but oy…so unaffordable to buy and maintain.

    yes, thd and i are often at odds over my castigation of obomba; he sees the wider angles of corrupt systems and diminishing democracy (and deep government, as in the post i put up about it recently) as the enemies to fight. yes, the fifth one down on the list on the left sidebar…

    i’d missed the big f and g; brian sonenstein just put a post up about it. i’ thought you’d meant the new, bright ‘advertise at fdl’ button. site hits re about half of what they were a year ago, and miz hamsher’s art and culture push doesn’t appear to be working. dunno why brian emphasizes ‘free blogging with f ad g signin’, by the by; everyone gets it, although the mods and pro organizations usually have most of the slots on the recd list, in any event.

    how many good and true folks have been banned from there for bogus reasons; how many have just left in disinterest or disgust with the site’s recent zeigeist? a lot. :) oh, and i finally sent you richard’s moskvich tomato seeds. shiver me timbers, and all that rot, lol.

  11. Good afternoon wendyedavis,
    Continual comparisons between corporate bootlickers Scott Walker and BarryO got me voted off the island last week at one WI blog site. Plenty others around to test yet. I guess my messaging must have been being read. ;^) How NOT to win friends but still influence people. Jon Walker FDL summed up my thoughts similarly @ FDL action a few days ago.

    Bread about ready for final punch-down and loaf shaping. Soup’s a simmering. Sunny and -6F. If we did not have this heavy blanket of snow, the frost in the ground would be deep.

    Perplexed as to why F and G are entering the picture. Zuckerberg$$$ influence got him into a ton of Congressional offices recently, and we were told human surveillance was not the topic. 2-3 Billion more people out there to get signed up the the FB world-wide. Just think of the opportunities for whatever, gag me, now.

  12. lol. fdl seems to er…not be available lately. is it down to F and G? i’ll think so until proven wrong. what crap. kgb had said that huffpo made it mandatory recently to sign in thru facebook! wonder if this is stage one? you’d wonder why theyre going this way, and why anyone would join those networks given the inherent insecurity is waaaaay beyond me. but why a place would make a point of going after those ‘culture bloggers’ is beyond me, unless management believes that appealing to a younger crowd would make them more money.

    yum on zoup and bread; warm here, maybe 48 degrees? ish. creepy.

  13. One regular and one caraway rye. In the pans. 12 inch stainless bowl floats on a warm water bath in the 16 inch stainless bowl and I’ve got the proofing down to a great system.

    F and G and, ‘culture bloggers,’ maybe there is a political crowd out there that is prime post capitalist, new ideas, open to influence, but more clicks from anywhere has to help maintain the site. I still have to pay the rent. Nice to have 900 sq ft to be inside rather than outside, this time of year.

    Have a very nice evening.

  14. oh, nice. i always make sourdough, so the slower the proofing, the better. i confess i’ve been final proofing too long lately, not seeming to remember what i’m doing.

    well, we’ll see on clicks and visit lengths, i guess. good evening to you, too, nonquixote.

  15. I’ve just gotta lil breadmaker I was given by my kids eons ago – must have been before they outsourced to kitcheewallaroo as the little engine just keeps on chugging. I love being able to set it and forget it, lazy me. And if I put in enough whole wheat flour it actually tastes good!

    I just went to spy on the book salon from yesterday and at the top unrolled the following message:

    “(On AllSocial login) To enforce the Security (Yes, capital ‘S’) of our services we require each domain to be whitelisted (?). Please click here to open your security settings and whitelist (?) the domain, Reload this page afterward.”

    Being flummoxed, I did none of the above. I don’t know how ‘welcoming’ that message may be (if it applied to me or does to anyone going there – wonder what would have happened had I tried to post anything?

    I also don’t think that big ‘fg’ dangling down where I usually read does anything BUT intimidate. But whatever. Loved the little girl in red at Sochi, by the way, and a warm spot in MY heart for Putin. He has class – that was an American composition she danced to and I know it’s been done before but she was it. Much much better than the German gal whose name escapes me at present. (Little girls skating are so flexible, like the young gymnasts.) And Sochi is very beautiful too, those magnificent trees! NBC is for the pigwallow, though – calling Euvgeny Plushenko arrogant!

  16. From democracy now:

    Report: NC Regulators Shielded Duke Energy from Coal Ash Lawsuits

    “State regulators in North Carolina are facing claims they intentionally blocked lawsuits against Duke Energy, the company behind one of the worst coal-ash spills in U.S. history, in order to shield Duke, where Republican Gov. Pat McCrory worked for 28 years. Earlier this month, a Duke coal-ash pit spilled enough toxic sludge to fill more than 70 Olympic swimming pools. Now, the Associated Press reports that over the last year, following the election of McCrory, North Carolina’s environmental agency blocked lawsuits over Duke’s coal-ash pits three times, eventually shielding all 31 pits from potential lawsuits. The agency proposed settlements for a fraction of Duke’s worth that did not require Duke to clean up the pits. Beyond his work for Duke, McCrory’s campaign and affiliated groups have received more than a million dollars in recent years from Duke and related groups and individuals. The state agency has also admitted it wrongly declared arsenic levels in the Dan River safe after the spill; arsenic in one sample was actually four times higher than maximum levels for prolonged contact.”

  17. To refudiately paraphrase the Rethugs’ demigawd Raygun, the NC People PAID for effective pollution prevention! But even DEM NOW “reporters” take dictation from the NC plutocrats and fail to identify the accountable “regulators” nor EVEN the “responsible” Agency (tip: it was lawyers for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources) ! OTOH and BTW, neither, iLoveMountains NOR Their lawyer (Tom Cormons) at Appalachian Voices has yet advised of any (much less, effective) pursuit of the long-languishing 1985 CWA deadline to STOP these Aquatic ASSAULTS on Our WATERS, DEAD (rather than the present despicable other way around)!*
    * More ‘willful blindness’ or merely “fighting for the fund of it”, I presume.

  18. well, crap; and here we’d hoped they might have listened to your facts. okay, yes: gurls fighting for the fund of it; he never responded, eh?

    Moar cyndi lauper! Moar BridgeGhazi!!!

  19. S’OK; got the same response from sierra clubbers on central Florida phosphate minings’ slimes ponds, audubons’ incite ‘wetlands farce’ article and ‘my’ book, Paving Paradise : ZerO.
    Moar ROAR!

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