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Tens of Thousands of Tons of Coal Ash Spilling Into N.C. River

Duke Energy coal plant disaster sends arsenic, mercury, lead, boron and other toxic heavy metals pouring into Dan River

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Up to 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of polluted water have poured into North Carolina's Dan River after a pipe burst beneath a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy.

"The Dan River is very gray and ashy looking, incredibly dark," Amy Adams of Appalachian Voices told Common Dreams as she stood at the river. "It looks like if you had mixed your run-of-the-mill campfire ash in a five-gallon bucket of water."

According to the utility company, the incident occurred Sunday afternoon at the now-shuttered Dan River Steam Station in Eden, which was retired in 2012 and is now a dumping ground for ash left behind by burned coal. The company waited until Monday to announce the disaster to the public, infuriating local residents and environmental organizations.

Duke spokeswoman Catherine Butler says the utility can provide no concrete numbers on the magnitude of the spill and claimed that the leak has been stopped for now yet has not been permanently repaired, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.

Yet Adams told Common Dreams that the spill is still ongoing.

Residents and environmental groups are demanding that Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources immediately and publicly disclose the full extent of the disaster.

“State environmental officials failed to immediately notify the public about a major toxic spill in one of our precious waterways,” said Stephanie Schweickert, affiliate organizer with the North Carolina Conservation Network. “Coal ash is extremely dangerous and the communities near the spill deserve information about their health and safety.”

Residents and environmental groups say the spill is just the latest incident in the company's long history of polluting local communities.

"This is an outdated hazardous pipe that has been leaking and is currently releasing millions of gallons of water," said Kara Dodson of Appalachian Voices in an interview with Common Dreams. "We've been working on coal ash and pollution from Duke Energy for years. They have a complete lack of respect for people who live near and downstream. There is evidence of groundwater contamination and leaks. People who live nearby are getting sick and are demanding Duke Energy take care of their pollution."

Duke Energy is in the midst of litigation for 14 dangerous ash dumping sites across North Carlina, including the site where this latest spill occurred.

Coal ash contains arsenic, mercury, lead, boron and other toxic heavy metals that pose a threat to drinking water and the river ecosystem.

"We need Duke to close these hazardous ash ponds," said Dodson.


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