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Water monitoring continues; Duke Energy apologizes

The leak at its retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. is plugged, Duke Energy announced Friday.

Meanwhile, Halifax County Service Authority officials continued to monitor the water coming out of the Dan River over the weekend in the aftermath of an ash spill that occurred over a week ago when a pipe collapsed at the Duke Energy Steam Station leaking contents of an ash pond into the Dan River.

The spill was caused by a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe located underneath Duke’s unlined 27-acre, 155-million-gallon ash pond, ultimately draining an estimated 24 to 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River. 

A 48” slip-joint concrete and corrugated steel storm sewer line that runs under the ash pond failed, and liquefied ash flowed into the failed section of the line, and then to the Dan River.

The plant is located about 20 miles upstream from the city of Danville’s raw water intake. 

The occurrence, the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history, made its way to Halifax County last Tuesday.

“The Leigh Street Filter plant is performing very well, and we continue to monitor and evaluate the treatment process,” said County Service Authority Executive Director Mark Estes. “We are closely monitoring our source water and our finished water quality.” 

The Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water continued to provide guidance and support to the local service authority operations staff. 

All sampling results to date have confirmed the treatment process is “very efficient at removing the ash particulates and metals from the water,” Estes said.   

There has been a tremendous sampling effort on behalf of Virginia, North Carolina and USEPA to sample and monitor the community water systems affected. 

Service authority staff has collected a series of comprehensive water quality samples from Dan River and throughout the treatment process. 

“We are using two certified Virginia laboratories for our own analysis and anticipate several test results as early as today. Duke Energy, NC DENR, VADEQ and USEPAO have been collecting sample data over the past several days, and we will correlate all of the sampling data that should be released over the next several days,” Estes said. 

Test results from water samples analyzed by Duke Energy overnight Thursday and Friday demonstrate that water quality continues to improve downstream of the Dan River Steam Station, confirmed Paul Newton, Duke Energy president.

Drinking water supplies remain safe, he said.

However, copper exceeded normal parameters on Monday and Tuesday, although levels dropped Tuesday. Duke Energy said it will continue to monitor the waters of the Dan to see if further investigation is warranted.

Late last week, the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DENR) released sampling results for a number of water quality parameters, and the results are consistent with the analysis performed by Duke Energy.

The company continues to work closely with local communities, the state of North Carolina, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to share its sampling results for comparison with their analysis, Newton said.


Information session held in Danville

Duke Energy officials on Friday held an information session in Danville, where they issued an apology for the coal ash spill into the Dan River from its shuttered Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. 

They also addressed environmental remediation of the river, promising to “make it right.” 

“I want to start with probably the most important statement that I will make today, and that is we apologize,” said Newton, president of Duke Energy’s utility operations in North Carolina. “We apologize for the accident that happened on the Dan River site. We are working 24 hours a day to permanently plug that leak. You have our commitment to tirelessly work to do that. We have hundreds of people on site, including engineers, scientists and environmental experts.” 

He continued saying, “The second thing we are committed to is the environmental remediation. Whatever it may be that is required of the river, you have our complete, 100 percent commitment to make it right. Have no question in your mind about that. We take full responsibility.” 

The 90-minute information session took place before a packed City Council Chambers. The meeting was arranged at the request of Duke Energy. City Council members and city staff were in attendance as well as concerned citizens and a dozen media outlets. 


Progress in sealing the leaking storm water pipe

Flows to the river decreased again Friday and work to reach the location of the broken pipe continued.

“Overnight Thursday, crews used pumps to move the ash basin water that was pooling around the break in the storm water pipe into a secondary pond,” said Newton. “Today crews nearly completed a temporary ramp into the ash basin to the area where they will work to permanently seal the pipe. That work continues overnight.”

Between 3,000 and 5,000 tons of rock was being used to build the ramp into the basin.

“As much as we wanted it (the leak) to stop yesterday, life is not that simple,” the Duke Energy president said. “Everybody wanted that leak to stop immediately, and all of our efforts were to stop that leak immediately.” 

Newton said equipment first needed to be brought to the site.  

“More importantly, you have to engineer things first,” Newton said. “You can’t just run out there and cap the ends and think you have it solved. … If you do that, you could make the problem worse. We have people working as quickly as we can, but as carefully as we can.  

“Today as we stand here, it’s much more stable,” Newton said. “We have a lot of the water volume off that pipe, off the breech, so there is not that head pressure that is pushing ash into the river.” 

Newton said plugs would be installed in the “near term.” With the plugs in place, the company will be in a position to permanently seal the pipe. 

Newton said there is no leakage “as we stand here today.” 

The basins hold 992,000 tons of ash. Initial estimates are that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of ash were released into the river, Newton said. In addition, 24 to 27 million gallons of ash basin water reached the river. 

In comparison, Newton said a 2008 dam breech in Tennessee, spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of ash. 

“Here, we are talking about 60 to 100,000 cubic yards. This is still a serious accident in our view,” Newton said. “It is a game-changer for our company with respect to how to manage an ash pond. … There are norms out there in the industry, but we are going to look at them differently as a result of this spill.”

He continued, saying, “We expect to have a lot a help with respect to how we mitigate these ash ponds, particular here with Dan River. We welcome that.” 

Federal and state agencies are on site, Newton said. 

Newton emphasized that water sample tests by Duke Energy and independent facilities show the water is “perfectly safe to drink.” 

Testing, which includes testing for heavy metals, will continue. 


State officials’ react

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said last week he is closely monitoring the situation involving the coal ash spill and has directed the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Health to continue to evaluate the quality and safety of the Dan River’s water supply. 

“I spoke with Governor McCrory this afternoon, who told me that he and his team are working diligently to contain the spill and mitigate its effects, and I also spoke with Mayor Saunders of Danville and Mayor Owens of South Boston.  I assured the governor and the mayors that Virginia is ready to provide any assistance that may be necessary to protect the quality of the water supply in the areas in both states that could be affected by the spill. At this time the water supply remains safe for human consumption, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it progresses.”  

Attorney General Mark R. Herring on Friday spoke to Mayor Saunders, City Manager King and other city leaders from Danville about the coal ash spill in the Dan River. 

He pledged to them his personal support and that of his office if there is anything they can do to protect public health, protect the water supply and minimize environmental damage.  

“Thus far, Duke Energy appears to be doing the right things in accepting responsibility for this situation, and I told city leaders that they and the people of Southside can count on me to help make sure Duke follows through on their word in the weeks and months ahead,” the attorney general said.