News Feature | March 5, 2014

North Carolina Coal Ash Spill Still Messy

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Regulators and researchers are assessing the damages of the North Carolina coal ash spill—and they appear to be significant. 

"A team of academic researchers equipped with a drone estimates that up to 35 million gallons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater spilled into the Dan River earlier [in February]," the Associated Press reported this week.

Researchers measured the volume of the waste, which originated in a faulty Duke Energy coal ash dump. "The amount equals about 53 Olympic-sized swimming pools, making it the third-largest coal ash spill in the nation's history," the report said. 

Officials have been monitoring the arsenic levels in the Dan River since the spill. Even weeks after the event, "unsafe levels of arsenic apparently leaching from a Duke Energy coal ash dump [were] still pouring into the Dan River," the Epoch Times reported

Critics say state regulators may share some of the blame for the pollution. "Federal prosecutors have broadened their criminal investigation of state environmental regulators after a massive coal ash spill Feb. 2 that contaminated the Dan River in North Carolina, issuing 20 more subpoenas demanding documents about communications and possible payments and gifts," the Los Angeles Times reported

The disaster was a result of two spills, the Times said in a separate article. "A second ruptured stormwater pipe that has been spilling toxic coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina and Virginia" has now been sealed as well, the report said, citing state officials. 

Legal questions are looming large over the cleanup process. "State environmental regulators have told a Superior Court judge they may want to reinstate, and could expand, a controversial settlement with Duke Energy regarding the cleanup of two coal ash ponds in North Carolina," WRAL reported this week. 

Environmental groups have criticized the settlement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Duke.

"DENR is apparently considering the possibility of shielding more Duke Energy coal ash pits under its do-nothing settlement deal with Duke, which requires no real action to clean up of those coal ash lagoons,"  D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center, said in the report.  

Image credit: "Site and Ash Basin," © 2014 USFWS/Southeast, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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