Report: Dan River ‘highly toxic’ due to Duke Energy coal ash spill

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EDEN, N.C. -- A certified laboratory analysis of water samples taken from the Dan River on Feb. 4 reveal that the water immediately downstream of Duke Energy’s ash spill is "contaminated with extremely high levels of arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and other toxic metals" typically found in coal ash, according to a report from Waterkeeper Alliance.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory visited the Dan River near the site of the spill on Thursday, calling the incident a "serious accident," but saying that based on Duke water standards and side sampling, the drinking water in the area appears to be safe.

VIEW THE REPORT: Data from ash release at Duke Energy Dan River Station

On Thursday, the Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper issued the results of water sampling from the Dan River in the wake of the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.

MORE COVERAGE: Dan River coal ash spill

According to the news release, when compared to the levels found in a “background” water sample taken upstream of the spill, arsenic levels immediately downstream of the spill are nearly 30 times higher, chromium levels are more than 27 times higher, and lead levels are more than 13 times higher because of Duke Energy’s coal ash waste.

“If a terrorist group committed in North Carolina - for ideological reasons - a crime that Duke Energy has committed for profit, our nation would consider it an act of war against our country,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Duke could have avoided contaminating the Dan River and poisoning Virginia's water supplies if it had removed its toxic ash heaps years ago after being warned by EPA.”

MAP: Map of where samples were collected

The water samples were taken from a stretch of the Dan River downstream of the spill located between Eden and Danville.

Coal ash is a waste product from coal combustion and can present a serious threat to aquatic ecosystems and drinking water because it contains heavy metals and other toxic compounds, according to the report.

Testing found an "arsenic concentration" in the water immediately below the discharge of .349 mg/L.

Arsenic is a toxic metal commonly found in coal ash and is lethal in high concentrations. The .349 mg/L concentration found in Waterkeeper’s sample is greater than EPA’s water quality criterion for protection of fish and wildlife from acute risks of injury or death. It is more than twice as high as EPA’s chronic exposure criterion for fish and wildlife, and is almost 35 times greater than the maximum contaminant level (MCL) standard that EPA considers acceptable in drinking water.

Waterkeeper Alliance also found a lead concentration in the polluted water of 0.129 mg/L. Lead is another metal commonly found in toxic coal ash.

Lead poisoning can cause developmental delays and permanent damage in exposed infants and children, as well as kidney damage and high blood pressure in adults. In very high doses, lead poisoning can cause death.

“On Tuesday when I collected these samples, coal ash continued to spill out of the pipe into the Dan River,” said Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Our sample crew on the Dan River today reports that there is still coal ash waste dripping out of the pipe."

“These sample results raise great concern for the health and safety of our communities, river users and the wildlife in the Dan River Basin ecosystem.” said Tiffany Haworth, Executive Director of the Dan River Basin Association.

Levels of other contaminants found in the sampling just below the discharge include: Manganese: .576 mg/L; Boron: .314 mg/L; Calcium: 34.7 mg/L; Zinc: .224 mg/L; and Iron: 84.6 mg/L.

MORE COVERAGE: Dan River coal ash spill


  • Evil Empryss

    I’ll believe the Gov when he takes a big drink from a glass of water taken straight from the river. Put your money where your mouth is, Gov, and prove that you believe what you’re saying!

  • James

    Well, here we are again, the fox guarding the hen house. Sure there is going to be nothing more than a slap on the hand, seeing the Gov. was imployeed by Duke Power. Someone should have been cleaning this
    “Accident” before now.

  • Mark

    “Duke Energy’s ash spill is “contaminated with extremely high levels of arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and other toxic metals”

    Gov. McCrory: “the drinking water in the area appears to be safe.”

    Sounds like the GOP plan to reduce unemployment.

  • Gloria

    Good work RiverKeepers! This independent certified lab analysis sure makes the NC Gov & DUKE Energy comments look, at best, insincere. This could turn into the Dan River McCroryGate.”

  • Joey

    There are buisness that do far worst things that affect everyday people and the way they live. Its just never showed and the pay a fine and keep on making money. The reason for the pipe running to the river was either watwr from drains inside the plant or possibly the circulating water return line which is the water that is taken from the river and then returned after it is used but it is still the same. I love how people can comment on things that they have no idea how it works to begin with. Is it a bad thing? Yes it is could it have been worse? You bet. Will get fixed? Yes. The ash will be cleaned up and the water w

    • Len

      I so agree with you Joey. People need to educate themselves before they go talking about a company that is all across the country severing millions and millions. People are acting like Duke has done this on purpose………….. Why would they take that kind of risk. The people of Eden don’t seem to understand that Duke has been fined hundreds of times that they know nothing about. We don’t even get our water from this source. We get our water from Danville. The City of Eden dumps sewage into our river ALL the time. We NEVER hear anything about that. I don’t drink the water, but it’s not because of the river, it’s because of the way our water smells in the country. I wish people would stop and think about what they are posting. Duke would NEVER try and hurt Eden, Danville or any other state or city. This is a subject I’m fired up about. People need to realize any company can make a mistake, it wasn’t on purpose. Duke is the one that’s going to have to pay for this.

      • JT

        Oooohh, no. Massa would nevah hurt you lessn you deserved it! Massa Big Business sho is my friend! He loves me! He only wants the best fo me. Line up, sheeple–if you think Duke Energy A. Gives a rip about you and your health, or B. Doesn’t need to be regulated, you get what you deserve. This reminds me of BP–Oh, yes, we care about the gulf…

      • ashley

        Actually, Eden city water is from the Dan River, there is a water treatment plant 1 or 2 miles up the river. Also, Greensboro gets water from Eden.

  • Lori

    Duke Energy needs to be held accountable but I don’t get why this has started party politics discussions. I can’t stand either party and I am sure in addition to the GOP not holding DE accountable…. the DEMs did the same thing when they were in office. So for the DEMs blaming the GOP and the GOP blaming the Dems just know both parties have equally created 100% of the problems our state and country face including allowing shameless corporate polluting.

    • Len

      Are you crazy, Justin?????????? Duke for one can’t raise their rate unless it’s approved by the utilities commission. Educate yourself!!! They have done great things for our city to improve Eden. Do you really think they need our money??? They are a HUGE COMPANY, THAT BUYS OTHER ELECTRICAL COMPANYS YEARLY! They are going to be fined huge for this, trust me. Don’t comment unless you know the details!

      • john

        @ Len: How many times has our rates been raised in the past ten years ??? It seems that You are a Duke employee and there no OTHER power companies in NC.

      • john

        @Len: You are the one that does not know the law. ” HUGE COMPANY THAT BUYS OTHER ELECTRICAL COMPANYS YEARLY”. THAT IS CALLED A MONOPOLY AND IS ILLEGAL. And how many electrical companies are there in NC. You do the research???

      • Robert

        Electric Power Companies in North Carolina — Dominion Resources (North Carolina Power), Duke Energy, ElectriCities, North Carolina Electric Membership Corp., XOOM Energy. This list does not include the many Co-Generation Power Plants such as UNC-CH.

    • Len

      John, Duke or any other utilities can not hike rates unless approved by the commission. I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not but Duke raised their rates these past years because it had been decades since we had a hike in our power bills. Get the facts. Duke will make this right and will have to pay millions for this mistake!!

  • jessica

    Duke IS a monopoly that doesn’t care about the common people. I know from personal experience. They refused to come and check our meter when we were having problems with it spinning too fast and getting charged more than double our usual bill. “It goes against our policy because our system doesn’t show a problem with the meter”. When I finally get my lawyer involved they come out and sure enough…. their meter had malfunctioned. It’s a shame that it took a potential lawsuit before they would fix the problem. And you say they do good for the community….. I think not. They save face to appease the simple minded.

    • Stephen Melton

      If it was a monopoly Id have Duke…and I dont. The mono in the word means ONE. The state has more than ONE power company in it.
      No, I dont work for them, but I have NEVER had an issue with other customer service reps when my own customers have been worried about bills, and we did an energy audit in the box to insure excessive draw wasnt there. With the new smart meters, you cant really tell how fast “its spinning” and they have even replaced some smart meters at customers request with the old style.
      No, dont think they care for a sec, but they do worse than this…its just what the media picked up on…whatever media reports, it what John Public picks up on and runs with…..

  • American Citizen

    A company the size of Duke Energy knows the rules AND the law. You can’t tell me someone coulnd’t predict this would happen and take measures to prevent it. The fact they just say “opps” and probably expect the Law to turn their head or “work with them” is just plain arrogant!!!

  • Jeff

    Can I buy you a Duke Energy drink? It contains arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and other toxic metals, all naturally derived from the Dan River in North Carolina. And don’t worry because “based on Duke water standards and side sampling, the drinking water in the area appears to be safe”. Drink up!

  • Diane Purcell

    If there were another power company to compete with Duke Energy, not only would customers be able to choose to turn away from Duke over this, but they’d work alittle harder to ensure this type of things doesn’t happen so they wouldn’t loose customers. Sure seems like a monopoly to me.

  • PeteandCarrie Hutchens

    More smoke and mirrors… State of NC and Danville, VA state water is with in limits of safety.
    Environmental group say not so, neither addresses the history of other spills in this water basin by local cities and town’s or how that could have impacted either test ? .
    And for what its worth neither does WGHP TV 8 !

  • Brad

    This type of event is catastrophic and needs to be rectified asap. The fact that this type of situation could ruin the entire lakes of Buggs Island and down stream Gaston is unacceptable. When you see levels 20-30 times higher that what is permissible there is a problem, What can be done at this point to create awareness and get some action. I personally have invested a lot of energy, time and money in areas around the lake and do not want to see anyone’s investment ruined because of a companies carelessness. Concerned lake lover.

  • dewey

    those of you saying that Duke Energy is a monopoly should really get out and travel a bit (going to Carowinds is NOT traveling)….but then you all are the ones who are always trying to get rid of the EPA

  • Jane Ponski

    ADD KOOL AID TO YOUR DRINKING WATER! THERE WHERE 3 federal law suits filed the Gov McCory stepped in and took over the law suits settled 2 of the cases for 99,000.00 with no demand to fix the problem. Ground water continues to be contaminated through out N.C.
    McCory and John E Skvarla have redefined the customer from people to protecting the polluters!!!!!

    • Robert

      A lot of talk Jane but no proof. Provide some sites to backup your claims. Then explain to us why after 20 straight years of Democratic control Duke Energy was allowed during all of that time to continue to dump coal ash into unlined ponds? At least McCory is doing something which is far more than Perdue, Easley or Hunt. You want to blame a Republican for 20 years of Democrat policy? That’s just plain stupid. Then you didn’t mention the $2 million that Duke spent on one incident alone (Flemington). Nor did you mention that the SELC got nowhere with Perdue. Sure looks like political bias.

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