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.