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Coal ash spill investigation now criminal

The leak at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. may be plugged, but a criminal investigation into the spill is just beginning.

Last week, federal authorities issued grand jury subpoenas seeking records from Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources concerning relevant information about the Feb. 2 spill that polluted the Dan River with tons of toxic coal ash sludge.

The coal ash spill occurred 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, spewed enough toxic sludge to fill 73 Olympic-sized pools and turned the Dan River gray for several days.

As part of the ongoing criminal investigation, North Carolina’s environmental agency’s chief lawyer has been ordered to testify in March before a grand jury.

Duke Energy had no comment on the pending litigation other than to say officials would cooperate with the investigation.

Also last week, Duke Energy announced an unpermitted discharge of water from plant drains and treated wastewater occurred last Tuesday at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. 

This water was from drains from the retired plant and treated domestic wastewater; it did not contain coal ash or any coal residuals, according to a Duke Energy news release.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 11, the company identified the release of a small volume of water from a piping system that was being rerouted in connection with activities at the plant. Site personnel then took immediate corrective action to stop the discharge, the release stated.  

“We believe the total amount of water was less than 1,000 gallons. It does not pose any health or environmental concern in the river,” Duke Energy officials said.