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Director: Drinking water safe

With a coal ash spill into the Dan River over a week old, Halifax County Service Authority Executive Director Mark Estes told South Boston Town Council Monday night “authority drinking water is safe.”

The ash spill occurred over a week ago when a 48-inch storm water pipe collapsed at a retired Duke Energy Steam Station in Eden, N.C., releasing an estimated 24 to 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River.

Estes said he has participated in conference calls at least three times a day since the spill occurred, adding authority drinking water is being tested every six hours.

Tests and chemical analysis of authority drinking water will continue until regulators “tell us everything is safe,” he added.

Test results from a number of sources have come back very consistent with each other, Estes continued.

“We’re very fortunate the ash in the Dan River was something we can treat,” he explained. “We’ve had very good results with our filters, and it helped we were farther removed from the incident than Danville. By the time it got to us, it was diluted somewhat.”

Concerns now turn to the long-term effect the spill would have on the community’s water source and accompanying habitat, Estes said.

“The river color is pretty much back to normal, and the water is safe to drink. There’s no trouble with it at all,” Estes said, while telling council he fully intended to discuss with Duke Energy the recovery of costs associated with the spill.

Meanwhile in Richmond, Del. James Edmunds participated in a press conference in the General Assembly building Monday with the heads of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Health, Secretary of Health Dr. William Hazel and affected legislators to get the latest information available on the coal ash spill.

“While it appears the drinking water in South Boston remains safe, I am still following very closely the environmental aspects of this incident, especially on fish and wildlife.  It should be noted that the PCB warning issued by the Virginia Department of Health some time ago on catfish over a certain size is still in effect,” Edmunds said. 

“The leakage has been stopped, however the repercussions of this spill are not immediately apparent.  As for the current incident, while there is no immediate threat to consuming other fish such as crappie, the long-term effects are not quite as clear, and I would just simply use good common sense when deciding for yourself whether or not to eat it. Any measurable increase in methylmercury in fish would not occur immediately from this spill but could accumulate over time,” the delegate added.

He also urged caution when swimming in the Dan River this summer.

Duke Energy is preparing a plan for coal ash recovery from the river bank, pending approval by the Army Corp of Engineers, Edmunds said. 

The Department of Environmental Quality is scheduled to hold a public hearing in South Boston next week on the coal ash spill, and Edmunds encourages anyone with concerns to attend that meeting.