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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.

6 comments

  • news2me

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

    LOOK INTO IT?????????????

    When?

    This is so devastating…….

  • concerned

    my husband is the one who has been finding these things and is featured in the article – the EPA was sent the information on the day it was found. The need-to-know people are being made aware of it, but the public also needs to know.

  • The man

    The dead mussels better have tissue inside them as mussel shells last for years. I do not doubt that mussels are dying due to coal ash, at least slowly for those in the erosional zones, quickly for those in depositional zones, but I do, in the absence of hard data, question the validity of “piles of dead molluscs”. One thing I do know, mollusc shells are not readily entrained in the water column. Therefore, these piles of “dead molluscs” are local populations and not washed down from upstream areas during normal flows. That is not to say the coal ash didn’t kill them. If there is tissue in the shells (particularly tissue that adheres) then bang! case closed. However, without that, you will be hard pressed to determine the time/date of death of those molluscs (is it both snails and bivalves? not sure from this post) I am an aquatic biologist. I hate that this happened to the Dan, I will, however, wait to see how this plays out with the macrobenthos over the next few months before I freak.

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