How to be a Total Ash

By wabeggs (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by wabeggs (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday afternoon, the United States’ largest electricity provider reported a spill of “50,000 to 82,000 tons” of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. An estimated 22 million gallons of coal ash could have already have been in the river by the time the spill was reported.

Duke Energy said Wednesday that hundreds of people using heavy equipment were working day and night to try to solve the situation. But the company’s statement did not provide a timetable for when the leak will be fixed.  Regulators are still trying to work out if the ash, which can contain toxic chemicals, including lead, arsenic, mercury and radioactive uranium, is a hazard to people or wildlife, according to an Associated Press report on Thursday.

The coal ash was being stored in a waste pond at the Eden, N.C., power plant, but it started flowing into the Dan River on Sunday when a storm-water pipe running under the pond began to leak. Duke officials had originally said on Tuesday that the leak was unexpected, because it was unlikely a reinforced concrete pipe would break. However, the pipe that broke turned out to be corrugated metal instead of the reinforced concrete they originally claimed. A Duke spokesman said on Wednesday that “knowing the material helps inform the engineers who are designing a permanent solution.” I have to wonder how much they actually know about the rest of the pipes, etc. if they weren’t aware of what the drain pipe was made of, though.

Brian Williams, a program manager with the Dan River Basin Association, told the AP he is worried that the extent of the damage might not be understood for years.

“How do you clean this up?” he told the news agency. “Dredge the whole river bottom for miles? You can’t clean this up. It’s going to go up the food chain … Everything in the ecosystem of a river is connected.”

So far, it appears that the cities who draw their drinking water from the Dan are either successfully filtering out the contaminants or just not using reservoirs fed by the river. Duke’s senior vice president for environmental health and safety says the test results are “not surprising, because this is the same message we’ve had for closing these ash basins … it’s just not water soluble,”

Incidents of energy companies polluting our waterways are becoming more and more commonplace. Sadly, the companies themselves aren’t being held responsible, as shown by Freedom Industries managing to shirk its responsibilities after last month’s West Virginia chemical spill by declaring bankruptcy for the company, thus putting any lawsuits on hold while finances, ownership, etc. are sorted out- something that could delay any settlement for decades. We need to be able to hold these industries responsible for poisoning one of our most essential natural resources; clean water.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to defund the EPA…

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This entry was posted in Climate Change & Environmental Issues, Energy and tagged , , on by .

About ew

ew came of age during the winddown to the Vietnam War, and like many other Americans, as soon there wasn't an issue that didn't affect him personally, he became indifferent. This gradually changed during the Reagan and Bush I years, continued through the Clinton years and finally came to a head with the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001. He works as a freelance consultant/tester for various music hardware and software companies, and lives in Minnesota.

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