Don’t Ash About The Cleanup

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

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

On February 2 of this year, Duke Energy, the largest electric power holding company in the United States, spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina. We wrote about the spill shortly after it happened, and questioned how well it would be cleaned up.

In May, the EPA announced that it had reached an agreement with Duke Energy over the handling of the spill cleanup. At that time, Heather McTeer Toney, the EPA Regional Administrator based in Atlanta, said: “EPA will work with Duke Energy to ensure that cleanup at the site, and affected areas, is comprehensive based on sound scientific and ecological principles, complies with all Federal and State environmental standards, and moves as quickly as possible. Protection of public health and safety remains a primary concern, along with the long-term ecological health of the Dan River.”

So, how’s the cleanup going? Last Thursday, the EPA and Duke Energy both announced that the cleanup was complete. However, Duke has only cleaned up approximately 2,500 tons that had piled up against a dam in Danville, Virginia. Duke and the state regulators say they will continue to monitor the river.

Dianne Reid, water sciences chief for the NC Division of Water Resources, told the Charlotte Observer“Ecologically, you could do more damage trying to remove all the ash than leaving it in place,” because disturbing the river bottom also risks stirring up the toxic mercury and cancer-causing chemicals called PCBs that already contaminate the Dan. The EPA’s on-scene coordinator Myles Bartos Bartos said“We continue to do some monitoring and will base our decisions for actions on the data collected. But I don’t think there will ever be a removal again in the river. I think it has been adequately removed.”

Kathleen Sullivan, senior communications manager for the Southern Environmental Law Center, asked in an email to the Danville Register and Bee; “Where are the other 37,000 tons?” She went on to say;  “They have not accounted for 94 percent of the coal-ash waste spilled into the Dan River. Duke has removed about 6 percent of the coal-ash waste it spilled and at just two places: at the spill site itself and the Danville dam. It is hard to believe that the coal ash hasn’t collected elsewhere in places in the river where it could be removed.”

Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison stated“This arrogant announcement from Duke Energy is the ultimate insult to the people of North Carolina and Virginia whose river has been devastated by the company’s toxic ash spill. Worse yet, Duke doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that there’s still a public health advisory declaring that the river is not safe to fish and swim in. Duke’s celebratory announcement that it ‘completed’ the clean-up threatens to mislead the public into think the danger has passed.”

Brian Williams of the Dan River Basin Association probably put it best: “This stuff is not just going to go to the bottom and stay there and not harm the environment. It will be an issue for many, many years to come.” We can’t help but agree with that assessment.


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