Dan River- coal ash spill one of the worst in history
The Dan River in North Carolina is the latest river to be devastated by a massive coal ash spill. Duke Energy’s shuttered coal power plan in Eden, NC had a breach of its coal ash storage pond right on the banks of the Dan River which is part of the Roanoke River basin and weaves its way across the state boarders of North Carolina and Virginia. The spill has dumped more than 82,000 tons of coal ash into the river and is the nation’s third worst spill in history and it took more than a day for the public to be notified. Now, the spill is threatening the drinking water for Danville, VA which is only about 20 miles downstream.
American Rivers listed the Catawba River as the fifth Most Endangered River of 2013 because of Duke Energy’s lax management of the coal ash ponds. Coal ash is formed at coal-fired power plants when coal is burned for the boilers that generate steam for power generation. The coal ash and scrubber residue is dumped into large holding ponds and mixed with water— many of these ponds lack liners to prevent groundwater contamination. This mixture is high in arsenic, selenium, and other carcinogens that if released would far exceed the EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels for drinking water. The tests of the Dan River bottom that have already been done show it is truly a toxic spill that will have lasting impact on the health of the river and the community.
North Carolina and Virginia are latest states to be impacted by the poor management and ineffective regulatory scheme. We should have learned from the Kingston coal fire power plant spill into the Emory River in Tennessee back in 2008. It is time for these threats to be moved from the edges of our treasured rivers and drinking water sources and moved to dry storage in lined and monitored sites.
This is the latest in a litany of infrastructure failures that shows that we have ignored our water infrastructure for too long. Our water infrastructure regularly gets some of the worst ratings by the American Society of Civil Engineers and there are thousands of dams that clog our rivers for no purpose that have been forgotten over the decades an now are only creating safety hazards and covering up fish habitat. With some ingenuity we can move away from these old ways and restore our streams and manage our water in a more sensible fashion.