Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station Ash Spill February 2014
|This article is part of the Global Energy Monitor coverage of coal plants|
On Feb 3, 2014, Duke Energy said 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water were released from a pond at its retired Dan River Steam Station into the Dan River, and were still flowing. A 48-inch stormwater pipe beneath Duke's unlined ash pond broke, and water and ash from the 27-acre pond drained into the pipe.
According to EcoWatch, the coal ash spill appears to be the third-largest in U.S. history. It was discovered after a security guard noted the coal ash pond was running lower than usual, meaning much of it had already drained into the Dan River. Residents of Danville, VA withdraw drinking water just six miles downstream of the spill site.
N.C. environmental officials later confirmed arsenic levels in the Dan River exceeded state standards for at least two days following the coal ash spill, after first saying levels were safe. Three other heavy metals in the river — iron, copper and aluminum — were also found to exceed state standards.
The spill was due to the collapse of a decades-old storm-water pipe made of corrugated steel. Sen. Austin Allran, R-Hickory, noted that corrugated pipe is known to fail and questioned Duke Energy why it had not been inspected.
Federal prosecutors have started a criminal investigation into the ash spill and possible federal-law violations at other Duke energy sites, according to subpoenas filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh.
Dan River and the 2013 Duke settlement
Four lawsuits filed in 2012 by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources against Duke Energy assert that coal-waste dumps at 11 of Duke’s 14 coal-fired power plants illegally leak into North Carolina waterways in violation of federal clean-water laws and that monitoring wells at all the power plants show levels of potentially toxic heavy metals that exceed state-mandated standards.
In the summer of 2013 the NC Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) made an agreement with Duke that the company pay fines of $99,111 for two previous coal ash leaks near Asheville and Charlotte, NC. After the Dan River spill, the DENR asked a judge to disregard the previously proposed settlement, one day after a story by The Associated Press criticized the arrangement as a sweetheart deal aimed at shielding Duke from far more expensive penalties the $50 billion company might face under the federal Clean Water Act.
The settlement would have required Duke to study how to stop the contamination, but included no requirement to clean up the dumps near Asheville and Charlotte.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said he was not involved in the settlement. McCrory worked at Duke Energy 28 years before retiring to make his first run for governor in 2008. In that time, campaign finance reports show Duke Energy, its political action committee, executives and their immediate families have donated at least $1.1 million to McCrory's campaign and affiliated groups that spent the money on TV ads, mailings and events to support him. On a 2013 state ethics form, McCrory indicated that his investment portfolio includes holdings of Duke stock valued in excess of $10,000, though he is not obligated to disclose the specific amount.
McCrory said a new task force would be created to assess all 31 of Duke's coal ash dumps in the state.
Coal waste in the United States
A January 2009 study by The New York Times following the enormous TVA coal ash spill found that there are more than 1,300 surface impoundments across the U.S. containing coal waste, with some sites as large as 1,500 acres. Also in January 2009, an Associated Press study found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to the one that ruptured at Kingston Fossil Plant. The states with the most storage in coal ash in ponds are Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama. The AP's analysis found that in 2005, 721 power plants generating at least 100 MW of electricity produced 95.8 million tons of coal ash, about 20 percent of which - or almost 20 million tons - ended up in surface ponds. The rest of the ash winds up in landfills or is sold for other uses. In June 2009, EPA released its list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal waste sites, which included 12 sites in North Carolina, 9 in Arizona, 6 in Kentucky, 6 in Ohio, and 4 in West Virginia. The full list is available here.
"High Hazard" Surface Impoundments
Two of Dan River Steam Station's coal ash surface impoundments are on the EPA's official June 2009 list of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not assess of the likelihood of such an event.
Coal Ash Waste and Water Contamination
In August 2010 a study released by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice reported that North Carolina, along with 34 states, had significant groundwater contamination from coal ash that is not currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, in an attempt to pressure the EPA to regulate coal ash, noted that most states do not monitor drinking water contamination levels near waste disposal sites. The report mentioned North Carolina based Dan River Steam Station as having groundwater contamination due to coal ash waste.
Study finds dangerous level of hexavalent chromium at Dan River coal waste site
A report released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011 stated that there are many health threats associated with a toxic cancer-causing chemical found in coal ash waste called hexavalent chromium. The report specifically cited 29 sites in 17 states where the contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash and included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin. In North Carolina, the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, the Asheville Plant in Asheville and the Cape Fear Steam Plant in Montcure all were reported as having high levels of chromium seeping into groundwater.
According to the report, hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) was reported at the Dan River unlined landfill and pond coal waste site above 61 ppb (parts per billion) - 3,050 times the proposed California drinking water goals and 22% above the North Carolina drinking water standard.
As a press release about the report read:
- Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.
According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.
Other coal waste sites
To see a nationwide list of over 350 coal waste sites in the United States, click here. To see a listing of coal waste sites in a particular state, click on the map:
- Center for Public Integrity
- Energy Justice Network
- Environmental Integrity Project
- Institute for Southern Studies
- Organic Consumers Association
- Sludge Safety Project
- Sierra Club
- Southern Environmental Law Center
- "Duke Energy plant reports coal-ash spill," www.charlotteobserver.com, Feb 3, 2014.
- Donna Lisenby, "Breaking: Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill Pollutes River and Threatens Drinking Water," EcoWatch, February 4, 2014.
- John Downey, "NC now says Dan River arsenic levels were unsafe after Duke Energy ash spill," Charlotte Business Journal, Feb 8, 2014.
- "Panel told of far-reaching pollution of coal-waste dumps," Winstom-Salem Journal, Feb 17, 2014.
- Dane Huffmanm "McCrory has sharp exchange with reporter over Duke Energy questions," WNCN, Feb 14, 2014.
- Shaila Dewan, "Hundreds of Coal Ash Dumps Lack Regulation," New York Times, January 7, 2009.
- Dina Cappiello, "Toxic Coal Ash Piling up in Ponds in 32 States," Associated Press, January 9, 2009.
- Shaila Dewan, "E.P.A. Lists ‘High Hazard’ Coal Ash Dumps," New York Times, June 30, 2009.
- Coal waste
- "Study of coal ash sites finds extensive water contamination" Renee Schoff, Miami Herald, August 26, 2010.
- "Enviro groups: ND, SD coal ash polluting water" Associated Press, August 24, 2010.
- "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash" Earthjustice & Sierra Club, February 1, 2011.
- "Coal ash waste tied to cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies" Alicia Bayer, Examiner.com, February 1, 2011.
Related SourceWatch articles
- Coal Ash Safety Issues, Donald Saxman, altenergymag.com (undated)
- "Coal Ash: 130 Million Tons of Waste," 60 Minutes, October 4, 2009.
- Charles Duhigg, "Toxic Waters: Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, At a Cost in Suffering,", New York Times, September 12, 2009.
- Kirstin Lombardi, "Coal ash: The hidden story," Center for Public Integrity, February 19, 2009.
- "Coal Ash: A National Problem Needs a National Solution," Earth Justice fact sheet, January 2009.
- "Toxic Ash: A License to Pollute," Post and Courier, October 26-29, 2008.
- "Coal Combustion Waste," As You May or May Not Know..., March 27, 2008.
- House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources: Oversight Hearing, "How Should the Federal Government Address the Health and Environmental Risks of Coal Combustion Waste?,", June 10, 2007.
- Martha Keating, "Cradle to Grave: The Environmental Impacts from Coal," Clean Air Task Force, June 2001.
- Martha Keating, Ellen Baum and Eric Round, "Laid to Waste: The Dirty Secret of Combustion Waste from America's Power Plants," Citizens Coal Council, Hoosier Environmental Council, Clean Air Task Force, March 2000.