Duke Says Coal-Ash Leak Into Dan River ‘Virtually Eliminated’

Duke Energy Corp. has “virtually eliminated” the flow of coal-ash into the Dan River in North Carolina, five days after millions of gallons of the toxic sludge leaked from a broken pipe, the company said.

Sample results show water quality continues to improve downriver and tests were consistent with sampling being performed by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company said in a statement yesterday.

Duke installed a catch basin along with a series of pumps at the end of the broken storm-water pipe that “has virtually eliminated any outflow to the river,” according to the statement. Any release is being captured and pumped back into a safe area of the coal-ash containment pond and crews are “making progress” toward sealing the pipe, Duke said.

“We apologize and will use all available resources to take care of the river,” Paul Newton, Duke Energy’s president of North Carolina, said in the statement. “We will do the right thing for the river and surrounding communities.”

Duke has estimated that as many as 27 million gallons of water and 82,000 tons of ash spewed into the river after a storm drainage pipe ruptured under a containment pond at a shuttered coal plant in Eden, North Carolina.

Toxic Levels

The spill contained toxic levels of arsenic, chromium, lead and other heavy metals common in coal, based on samples taken Feb. 4, Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group, said Feb. 6 in a statement. Downstream drinking water supplies are safe, based on samples at intakes and of treated water, Duke said.

Environmental groups have called for better regulation of the disposal of coal-ash, produced when powdered coal is burned to make electricity. The waste is stored in containment ponds. In 2008, a record 1 billion gallons of ash sludge poured into Tennessee’s Emory River from a Tennessee Valley Authority storage site in 2008.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today that the coal-ash is safe for recycling in cement and wallboard. The agency is set to complete rules for coal-ash disposal later this year.

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