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Feb 06 2014

Massive Coal Ash Spill Hits North Carolina

Eden, North Carolina is the site of a massive and devastating leak of toxic coal ash from a mothballed coal plant after a burst pipe drained millions of gallons from a retention pond into a river. It’s a disaster that could easily have happened all over the country, and already has in some places.

A stormwater pipe under an unlined coal ash pond at a shuttered plant in Eden, North Carolina, burst Sunday afternoon — draining tens of thousands of tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

Duke Energy, which owns the Dan River Steam Station, retired since 2012, estimates that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water were released from the 27-acre storage pond. The leak has at least temporarily been stopped, while Duke works on a more permanent solution. Coal ash is a toxic waste byproduct from burning coal, usually stored with water in large ponds.

The closest community at risk from the spill is Danville, Virginia, which takes its water from the Dan River about six miles downstream of the pond. No water quality issues have been reported so far.

“This is the latest, loudest alarm bell yet that Duke should not be storing coal ash in antiquated pits near our state’s waterways,” Frank Holleman, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) told the Charlotte Business Journal.

SELC and others have been calling for Duke to remove ash from earthen basins such as the one at Dan River to more secure lined ponds to protect local water sources. Duke has 14 coal-fired power plants in the state, 7 of which have been retired.

In addition to air pollution, coal-fired power plants generate millions of tons of waste every year contaminated with toxic metals including lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium, and selenium — more than two-thirds of which is dumped into landfills, storage ponds, or old mines.

Generating energy by burning coal is just a terrible idea on every level. The air pollution it generates is staggering and the waste created is very dangerous. In 2008, over a billion gallons of coal ash waste was released in Tennessee, destroying some 300 acres of riverfront.

23 comments

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  1. 1
    colnago80

    Not to mention that coal generates twice as much CO(2) per BTU of electricity produced as does natural gas.

  2. 2
    Tabby Lavalamp

    To be fair, the problems will happen tomorrow. There’s money to be made NOW.

  3. 3
    Alverant

    How soon before the politicians start blaming President Obama or the government for allowing it to happen?

  4. 4
    Modusoperandi

    Sure, this minor, unavoidable accident has bad optics, but on the other hand Duke has provided great value to its shareholders, so nothing can (or should) be done. The Free Market will handle this, by not changing at all, greenwashing, and lobbying state and federal govenments to maintain the status quo, and reaping profits from same.

  5. 5
    dingojack

    Any betting they’re go into receivership to avoid paying fines/for the clean-up?*
    Dingo
    ——–
    * didn’t we just see this movie, but set in West Virginia?

  6. 6
    unbound

    @2 – That is indeed the mantra of the corporate CEOs.

    @3 – I’m sure they are already blaming the gub’mint…it’s really just a matter of when it hits Faux News if they can pause long enough to fit it in….

  7. 7
    dingojack

    “they’re” = “they’ll”. Stupid autocorrect.
    ;) Dingo

  8. 8
    D. C. Sessions

    Despite the dire financial condition of the Duke Energy spinoff that owns the pond, Management remains confident that they have the reserves to pay the thousands of dollars in fines that could be assessed.

  9. 9
    schism

    But…all the commercials call it “clean coal technology!” If the internet has taught me anything, it’s that marketing never lies, ever!!

  10. 10
    Modusoperandi

    D. C. Sessions “Management remains confident that they have the reserves to pay the thousands of dollars in fines that could be assessed.”
    Also, they plan to appeal. And to countersue for costs related to the cleanup (which they won’t pay for) and legal defense, and they’re encouraging law enforcement to investigate the sabotage of their facility (gravity and water being two primary suspects). Also, depending on polling, they’re considering starting a bizarro class action suit against the people downstream for stealing their property.

  11. 11
    Larry

    Coal ash pollution in your water. It tastes like…

    Freedom!

  12. 12
    D. C. Sessions

    Good point, Modus. Have they filed a criminal complaint yet against the party or parties unknown who stole eighty-some tons of valuable processed minerals from their premises?

  13. 13
    bushrat

    @10 Modusoperandi – Oh, you mean the “Monsanto Defense”.

  14. 14
    Modusoperandi

    D. C. Sessions “Good point, Modus. Have they filed a criminal complaint yet against the party or parties unknown who stole eighty-some tons of valuable processed minerals from their premises?”
    Local Sheriffs, SWAT and DHS have cordoned off the area, using dogs and batons to find anyone with high levels of arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, thallium, vanadium, dioxins and PAH compounds in their blood.

     
    bushrat “@10 Modusoperandi – Oh, you mean the ‘Monsanto Defense’.”
    When I was a quarterback, our team used the Monsanto Defense. For those of you that don’t know, the Monsanto Defense is a play were you seed your half of the field with your own patented grass (“Roundup Ready!™!”). Then, when it hybridizes with the grass on the other half of the field, you sue the other team for stealing your patented product.

  15. 15
    bcreason

    I’m a big promoter of advanced nuclear reactors. The current ones are based on old military technology and have a lot of issues. Designs for newer reactors using Thorium instead of Uranium have eliminated many of the issues that plagued the old ones.

    Just think of all the new power we will need once millions of electric cars on on the roads. Solar and wind just won’t cut it.

  16. 16
    Michael Heath

    At Christmas one my brothers told me he saw a billboard on the PA turnpike decrying President Obama’s, “war on coal”. My response? I wish.

    Ed asserts:

    Generating energy by burning coal is just a terrible idea on every level. The air pollution it generates is staggering and the waste created is very dangerous. In 2008, over a billion gallons of coal ash waste was released in Tennessee, destroying some 300 acres of riverfront.

    These are trivial harms to humanity and the environment relative to the damage scientists predict from global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions, where coal consumption was and remains the biggest contributor.

  17. 17
    Modusoperandi

    Michael Heath “These are trivial harms to humanity and the environment relative to the damage scientists predict from global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions, where coal consumption was and remains the biggest contributor.”
    We have to keep up with China. We can’t allow a greenhouse gas emission gap! U S A! U S A!

  18. 18
    fifthdentist

    But, but, but all those advertisements were on the teevee for years telling us how coal is now clean.* And Dubya pushed “clean coal” in pretty much every speech he made while president.

    * I think they built one test plant, or were going to, not really sure if it ever was finished/went into operation. But it was good PR, dammit!

  19. 19
    bmiller

    What’s that I hear? Terrorists have POLLUTED water supply. Call out the National Guard. Suspend civil Rights!

    Oops. It was a CORPORATION that had a little woopsie in the desire to serve shareholders? Never Mind!

  20. 20
    Pierce R. Butler

    bcreason @ # 15: … millions of electric cars on on the roads. Solar and wind just won’t cut it.

    That makes a stronger argument for trains than it does for nukes.

    Put windmills and PV panels along the tracks, along with power lines and fiber optics: it might break even, might not, but would surely cost less than our continuing supersubsidies to the automotive & fuel industries. Doesn’t create toxic wastes or hardcore terrorist bait, either.

  21. 21
    democommie

    “Just think of all the new power we will need once millions of electric cars on on the roads. Solar and wind just won’t cut it.”

    Assertions without data or other evidence = bullshit.

    I keep hearing that alternative energy production that would be economically feasible is IMPOSSIBLE. The U.S. has likely spent far less on alternative energy production subsidies than it has on cleanups of nuke plants and fossil fuel plants.

    Energy use/production is one of the largest cost items for developed countries. Dismissal of the development and use of alternative energy is, in a word, ridiculous.

  22. 22
    Modusoperandi

    Pierce R. Butler “Doesn’t create toxic wastes or hardcore terrorist bait, either.”
    Really? Right now Al Qaeda would have to target thousands of gas stations, but if we switch to solar all they have to do is explode the sun. Do you have any idea what kind of chaos they’d create setting the sun on fire?

  23. 23
    democommie

    @22:

    Chuck Norris would just blow it out.

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