(NaturalNews) North Carolina has beautiful countryside, with the Appalachian mountains rolling through its western lands. A nice sprawl of rivers work their way through the state. Near the northern border winds Dan River. Once a serene river to fish from and an excellent source of fresh water, it has now become clouded with pollution from a catastrophic Duke Energy coal-ash spill.
Residents warned not to touch Dan River for miles, as thousands of tons of coal ash billow into the water
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has issued a warning to all people on and along the river downstream of Duke's Energy plant, telling people to avoid contact with any water or sediment in the area. They also advise everyone to not eat any fish miles downriver from the spill.
The warning, which comes 10 days after the spill, reports that a Duke waste pond collapsed, sending 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of water flooding into the Dan River. The beautiful river clouded over quickly as the 27-acre waste pond drained into the fresh water, polluting it for miles.
Officials from DHHS warned area residents of possible skin irritation if they were to come in contact with the polluted river water. As reported by The Charlotte Observer, DHHS stated that "'a potential hazard exists immediately downstream of the release,' and that people should avoid recreational contact with water and sediment from the river downstream of the spill, and not touch submerged or floating coal ash or ash that has washed up on the riverbank."
Elevated levels of aluminum and arsenic now showing up in the river
The Dan river is the principle source of drinking water for Roanoke Rapids, NC, in addition to cities and towns in Virginia. Now these cities must deal with elevated levels of aluminum, copper, iron and arsenic in their drinking water. All fish and shellfish have been deemed too toxic to eat. The human health implications of this heavy metal stew careening down the Dan River will affect people silently for months, possibly years, to come.
Duke and DENR to be investigated by federal grand jury
Duke is now being sued by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The Law Center hopes that Duke will clean up its archaic, destructive heavy metal ponds to avoid future spills.
Since the spill, Duke Energy has lowered its spill estimates from 82,000 tons of coal ash to 30,000. Documents released from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) reveal that the US Attorney's Office in Eastern North Carolina has opened up an "official criminal investigation of a suspected felony." A federal grand jury is now set to hear the case.
"We've been saying for some time that these primitive coal-ash sites were disasters waiting to happen," says Frank Holleman, a senior attorney for the Law Center. "And unfortunately, a disaster has occurred on the Dan River and... now this public resource is off limits to the public. You shouldn't even touch the water, and you shouldn't eat the fish. It's a very sad day for our state, for DENR and for Duke Energy."
Not only will Duke be under investigation on trial, but the DENR's oversight procedures dating back to 2000 will be evaluated, including an extensive list of documents that detail the state's interactions with Duke and the Dan River Steam Station, such as discharge permits and records relating to the broken storm water pipe.
Further environmental tests are scheduled to be conducted by DHHS and other agencies to evaluate the safety of fish and sediments and the level of toxins in the water.
Meanwhile, the federal grand jury is set to convene in Raleigh, NC, on March 18-20.