Monday, February 3, 2014

Duke Energy Plant In Eden, NC Reports Coal-Ash Spill

From the Charlotte Observer -

Duke Energy said Monday that an unknown amount of coal ash and water was released from a pond at its retired Dan River power plant in Eden into the Dan River.

Duke said a stormwater pipe beneath the unlined ash pond broke Sunday afternoon. Water and ash from the 27-acre pond, which holds 155 million gallons at full capacity, drained into the pipe.

Jamie Kritzer, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said shortly before 6 p.m. Monday that Duke engineers had temporarily stopped the flow into the river as they work toward a permanent fix.

“Engineers are working to estimate the volume of water and ash that reached the river, and the company will provide that detail when it is confirmed,” Duke said in an afternoon release. Duke expects to release an estimate Monday night, spokeswoman Erin Culbert said.

The Dan River plant is about 130 miles northeast of Charlotte near the Virginia line.

The pond’s dam beside the river “remains secure,” Duke said. Some erosion has occurred on the side of a berm farthest from the river, it said, and engineers are working to stabilize it.

Independent engineers who inspected the pond’s dam in 2009 for the Environmental Protection Agency found it in good condition, but noted some seepage and recommended a stability study on the structure’s river side. Built in 1956, it was divided into two ponds in the 1970s.

The Dan River plant was retired in 2012, so the level of ash and water in the pond was a lower level than when the plant operated, Duke said. A security guard spotted an unusually low water level in the ash pond at about 2 p.m. Sunday, leading to the discovery of the pipe break.

Duke said it has dispatched a team to monitor the river’s water quality. Coal ash contains metals that can be toxic in high concentrations.

Ash was visible on the banks of the Dan River, and the water was tinted gray.

The city of Danville, Va., whose water intake is about six miles downstream of the pond, said Monday the ash has not posed problems.

Barry Dunkley, the city’s water director, said in a release that “all water leaving our treatment facility has met public health standards. We do not anticipate any problems going forward in treating the water we draw from the Dan River.”

The Dan River plant was retired in 2012, so the level of ash and water in the pond was a lower level, Duke said.

Staff from the Winston-Salem office of the N.C. environment department were taking water samples to monitor the river’s health.

“While it is early in the investigation and state officials do not yet know of any possible impacts to water quality, staff members have been notifying downstream communities with drinking water intakes,” the department said late Monday afternoon.

A massive spill of ash slurry at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Tennessee in 2008 ignited national debate over coal ash.

Last week the EPA, which had been sued by two N.C. environmental groups among others, said it would issue the first federal rules on ash-handling by December.

Duke has closed seven of its 14 N.C. coal-fired power plants, including Dan River, and is evaluating ways to close the ash ponds at those sites. Groundwater contamination has been found around all 14 of its unlined ash ponds, although much of the contamination may occur naturally.

North Carolina environment officials, pressured by advocacy groups, sued Duke last year over ash handling at all its coal plants. Environmentalists say Duke should remove the ash from the retired ponds, as utilities in South Carolina have agreed to do.


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