Coal ash likely entering North Carolina river, environmentalists say

Coal ash likely entering North Carolina river, environmentalists say

Duke Energy said Friday that a dam containing a large lake at a Wilmington, North Carolina, power plant has been breached by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence. Because of rising waters, the river, lake and ash pond are now part of one water system, but Duke has installed a steel barrier at the ash pond to prevent the waste from moving in the reverse direction back into the river. Coal ash contains a number of toxic metals, such as arsenic and mercury.

A July 2018 inspection found that 900,000 cubic yards of coal ash were in the 1971 basin, along with 430,000 cubic yards of impounded water.

By Thursday, the Sutton Lake site had received more than 30 inches (75 cm) of rain from Hurricane Florence.

"Cenospheres are lightweight, hollow beads comprised of alumni and silica that are a byproduct of coal combustion".

Duke Energy said on September 19, that water samples collected by its employees and tested at the company's own lab showed "no evidence of a coal ash impact" to Sutton Lake or the Cape Fear River.

"This is a crisis that nobody in the Wilmington community should have to be worrying about on top of all the other problems Wilmington has from this flood, but it's a problem Duke Energy has inflicted on North Carolina and the Wilmington community", Holleman said. "While the state is now in emergency response mode, a thorough investigation of events will soon follow to ensure that Duke Energy is held responsible for any environmental impacts by their coal ash facilities".

Gray water containing coal ash flows from a ruptured landfill at the L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington, N.C., and flows toward Sutton Lake, near the Cape Fear River on September 16, 2018.

"EPA serves in a support role to the impacted states and has offered assistance to North Carolina to help them respond to the reported Sutton coal ash incident", Glenn said.

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David Fountain, president of Duke Energy's North Carolina operations, told CNBC on Monday that the impact from Florence has been the most severe he's ever experienced. The group said a private lab would analyze samples.

Floodwaters at the site were continuing to rise Friday.

Duke denied a request for an Associated Press reporter at the scene Friday to pass the barricade, saying that the situation at the lake "continues to change" and is "not safe".

The coal-fired plant was retired in 2013 and replaced with a new generating station that runs off of natural gas. South of the city, Duke Energy's Brunswick nuclear power plant was shut down as the storm approached.

Last weekend another coal ash landfill ruptured, spilling enough material to fill 180 dump trucks. In 2015, Duke agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. That water, which could contain some ash, would flow out into the Cape Fear River.

Staff from the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance visited the flooded dumps at the H.F. Lee Power Plant by boat Wednesday, took photographs and collected samples of gray sludge washing into the floodwaters. Culbert also said Duke believes a breach would not lead to a wave of water into the Cape River because the flooding is inundating the lake.

On Monday, the company said there was a spill of coal ash at a landfill at the Wilmington location and flooding at another near Goldsboro.

If the coal ash pond at the Sutton plant were to release coal ash, it would not be a total failure due to collapse, as was the case at the Dan River Steam Station four years ago, where the ash escaped through an opening near the bottom of the pit. Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the overtopping of an ash basin at the Granger plant near Conway should not be environmentally significant. Although river flooding has approached the two inactive coal ash basins at the facility, it appears there are now no structural issues with those impoundments. The company had placed a 2 ½-foot (72-centimeter) high inflatable berm around the top of a second pond that has more coal ash in it. The Cape Fear River is still rising, and is expected to crest on Saturday.

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