Up to 82,000 tons of coal ash has spilled into a river in Eden, North Carolina, about 35 miles north of Greensboro. The ash was stored in a pond at a retired power plant operated by Duke Energy.
Duke said a 48-inch stormwater pipe beneath the unlined ash pond broke Sunday afternoon. Water and ash from the 27-acre pond drained into the pipe.
“We’ve had some temporary solutions that have intermittently worked at times during the day, but we are still working on a short-term solution and the long-term repair,” spokeswoman Erin Culbert said shortly after 9 p.m. Monday.
The pond has a liquid capacity of 155 million gallons when full, according to a recent inspection report, but was at a lower level because the Dan River power plant’s coal-fired units were retired in 2012. It’s not known how much ash was in the basin, but Culbert said most of it appears to still be in the pond.
Duke said it notified local emergency managers and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which last year sued Duke over its ash handling, on Sunday afternoon. The first public notice of the spill came from Duke at 4:03 p.m. Monday.
Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal, and contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and other toxic heavy metals. The spill happened Sunday…but the Charlotte Observer notes that the public wasn’t notified until 4:03 yesterday afternoon. The water in the Dan River is apparently tinted gray, but the city of Danville, Virginia, which gets its water only 6 miles downstream, doesn’t foresee any problems treating it.
The incident is a reminder that even once a plant is retired, ash ponds can still cause problems. There’s coal ash stored at Louisville’s Cane Run power plant, and once the plant is retired in 2015, Louisville Gas and Electric plans to fill the pond in with more coal ash to close it.
The North Carolina spill comes only a few days after the Environmental Protection Agency settled a lawsuit with environmental groups, and agreed to finalize the first-ever federal regulations of coal ash by December 19. The EPA began working on those rules shortly after the December, 2008 spill of more than a billion gallons of coal ash in Kingston, Tennessee.