Coal Ash: The Dan River Spill and the Power Industry’s Toxic Legacy
Wednesday, 12 February 2014 09:10
By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report
Duke Energy’s coal ash pond in Eden, North Carolina, was a ticking time bomb. For more than 50 years, Duke Energy dumped ash and other wastes from a power plant in two unlined ponds next to the Dan River. The plant shut down in 2012, but the company just left the ash waste sitting in the ponds, the larger of the two measuring 27 acres across. On February 2, a busted stormwater pipe under the primary pond released millions of gallons of toxic sludge into the Dan River, which provides drinking water for communities downstream.
It took Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electricity producer, more than 24 hours to publicly report the spill and an additional six days to permanently plug the leak as an estimated 82,000 tons of ash turned the Dan River grey and contaminated its waters with dangerous levels of arsenic and other heavy metals. Duke Energy is currently working to contain and remove a 300-cubic-yard deposit of ash from the river.
The spill sounds like an unprecedented environmental disaster, but it’s not. In December 2008, coal ash impoundment maintained by the Tennessee Valley Authority in Kingston, Tennessee, burst open and 1.1 billion gallons of toxic sludge flooded out, destroying homes, streams and wetlands. Another TVA pond in Alabama leaked 10,000 gallons of coal waste sludge into a stream a month later. In August 2005, a coal ash pond at PPL’s Martins Creek Power Station in Bangor, Pennsylvania, failed, spilling 100 million gallons of ash across 10 acres of land and into the Delaware River. And the list of accidents and spills goes on.