Dead mussels, clams piling up downstream of Dan River coal ash spill

DANVILLE, Va. — Dead clams and mussels dot the Dan River Bank for at least 20 miles, according to the Dan River Basin Association.

A toxic coal ash spill into the Dan River at the beginning of February from a Duke Energy site in Eden is causing concern miles downstream.

Danville resident Morris Lawson first discovered piles of dead mollusks at the Dan Daniel Memorial Park and reported it to river officials.

“They’re laying everywhere,” he said. Lawson is the same man who found two dead turtles in the river several weeks ago. “This is going to get worse before it gets better,” he insisted.

Brian Williams with the Dan River Basin Association said they consulted with scientists and consider this number of dead mollusks “abnormal.” While some species, like the Asian clam, reproduce and die in large numbers, he said they are not used to seeing this many on the riverbank.

“This is the first of the dead organisms you’re going to see,” worried Lawson.

Dr. Matt Wasson with Appalachian Voices is an ecologist who says organisms at the bottom of the river are being covered with the thousands of tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan.

He said mussels are not just a food source in the river. They act as filters in the water, just like a filter for a fish tank keeps the water clean.

If the populations die off, he said, “That role, that filtering and kind of cleaning role, doesn’t get played and so it’s subtle changes that would happen over a period of years. But they could accumulate to very profound impacts on the whole river ecosystem including fish.”

A DENR spokesperson had not heard of the dead mussels and clams but told FOX8 they would look into it.