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

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