|From the Waterkeeper Alliance (Photo by Rick Dove)|
Coal ash is a waste product left over from burning coal, similar in concept to the ash left in your barbeque after you use charcoal. The difference is that heavy metals, like lead and arsenic, tend to get concentrated in the ash making it highly toxic.
Duke Energy had stopped generating electricity at the plant in 2012, but the ash was left behind in an impoundment at the site. A 2009 EPA report indicated that field inspectors found the dams leaking, with unstable surfaces, and labeled all of Duke Energy's North Carolina 53-year old ash impoundments as "significant hazard potential structures." However, despite the warnings, no changes were made because the EPA has no enforceable regulations in place for coal ash disposal or containment.
The spill occurred near Eden, North Carolina. Downstream the Dan River supplies drinking water to communities in North Carolina and Virginia. So far official say that tap water is safe to drink, but environmental groups are unsure and have been requesting additional information. There is also great concern over the potential long-term environmental consequences to the area, which is known as a wilderness recreation zone.
|Adapted from http://www.danriver.org/map-of-watershed|
The analyses released by Appalachian Voices and the Waterkeeper Alliance suggest that the water in the river downstream of the spill is highly contaminated. They report that the water has high levels of a variety of heavy metals including arsenic, chromium, iron, lead, and manganese. At this point it is unclear how long cleanup will take and what the long term effects might be to the regional ecosystem. The solids from the spill have settled on the river bottom and coated the banks.
Also disturbing, according to EcoWatch and the Waterkeeper Alliance, authorities waited until Monday evening, more than 24 hours after being alerted to the spill, to notify the public. The spill lasted for six days but the numbers released (82,000 tons of ash and 27 million gallons of water) have apparently not changed since that announcement.