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Originally published March 25 2014

Duke Energy pours dangerous levels of arsenic-containing coal ash into Dan River

by Jonathan Benson, staff writer

(NaturalNews) One of the leading energy providers in the Carolinas is the subject of a new investigation by state and federal environmental officials after it was revealed that the utility dumped at least 82,000 tons of coal ash waste into North Carolina's Dan River. CBS News reports that a major leak discovered at a Duke Energy coal ash dump in Eden, N.C., ended up coating about 70 miles of the bottom of the Dan River with toxic, arsenic-containing ash, raising serious environmental and public health concerns.

According to The News & Observer (N&O), Jeffrey Childs from the state's emergency management communications center received a call from Duke Energy environmental specialist Allen Stowe on the evening of February 2, notifying him of a spill. For some reason under the false impression that the spill was minor, Childs simply jotted it down in his daily log and moved on, a move that violated the Division of Emergency Management's (DEM) guidelines for environmental alerts.

When North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) eventually found out about the leak nearly a day later, it ordered Duke Energy to do everything in its power to contain it. A pipe that normally transfers the coal ash waste to special containment areas apparently collapsed unexpectedly the day prior, releasing what would later be determined to be tens of millions of gallons of toxic ash waste directly into the river.

"DENR didn't find out about [the spill] for 17 1/2 hours after the spill was discovered," wrote Craig Jarvis for N&O. "At that point the agency scrambled experts to the site near Eden to assess what would quickly become the third-largest coal ash spill in the country. By then, Duke was still trying to stop the leak from a broken underground stormwater pipe, and state regulators were playing catch-up."

Five additional Duke Energy plants cited for lack of stormwater permits

After playing a back-and-forth blame game, Duke Energy was forced to admit its error, but tried to excuse it by claiming that the company had no idea how big the spill was initially, hence the delay in communications. But the state also apparently dragged its feet in properly assessing the severity of the spill and actually sending out experts to evaluate it.

Consequently, as much as 35 million gallons of ash and water, according to three-dimensional modeling and drone assessments conducted by Wake Forest University, were dumped into the Dan River. And according to officials, a second Duke Energy pipe carrying ash waste is also at risk -- except this pipe transfers contaminated water containing arsenic at up to 14 times the level considered safe for human contact.

"The deposits vary with the river characteristics," stated Tom Augspurger, a contaminants specialist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), during a recent press conference, "but the short- and long-term physical and chemical impacts from the ash will need to be investigated more thoroughly, especially with regard to mussels and fish associated with the stream bottom and wildlife that feed on benthic invertebrates."

Meanwhile, Duke Energy has reportedly been cited for alleged violations at five additional power plants that it operates in the Southeast. The Roanoke Times explains that the utility currently lacks necessary stormwater permits at these five plants, which means that they are illegally discharging contaminated rainwater into public waterways.

The facilities cited include the Belews Creek Steam Station in Rockingham County, Cliffside Steam Station in Rutherford County, Lee Steam Electric Plant in Wayne County, Roxboro Steam Electric Power Plant in Person County and Sutton Steam Electric Plant in New Hanover County.

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