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DENR: Dan River on the mend

By Jesse Campbell (

Article Published: Mar. 6 | Modified: Mar. 6

The amount of potentially harmful metals that contaminated the Dan River during a coal ash spill last month continue to decrease, according to a report by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Concentrations of iron are now within state surface water quality standards at three of the four sampling stations, but aluminum still exceeds standards upstream, as well as downstream, from the spill site near Eden, according to the report.

On Wednesday, NCDENR announced that state regulators plan to conduct inspections of all of Duke Energy’s coal ash facilities in North Carolina next week, also requesting that Duke provide engineering and emergency action plans and maps for said facilities, along with videos of the pipes’ interiors at impoundment sites. “As we work to address coal ash impoundments statewide, we will be taking a comprehensive look at all the infrastructure at these sites to ensure that spills like the one that occurred in Eden never happen again,” said John Skvarla, secretary of NCDENR, in a news release.

On Feb. 2, sections of an abandoned four-foot water pipe that runs directly underneath a coal ash pond ruptured. The pipe was utilized by a Duke Energy plant, and the rupture resulted in the discharge an estimated 22 million gallons of coal ash into the Dan River.

Compounding the pipe’s ambiguous oversight was that segments of the pipe had been replaced with corrugated metal instead of reinforced concrete. Where pieces of the replacement pipe met the concrete is where the failure occurred, said Amy Adams, N.C. Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, in an earlier interview.

Appalachian Voices, a Boone-based environmental advocacy organization, responded to the spill by sending two staff members to northeast North Carolina the night it happened, Adams said.

Throughout the following days, the team took samples of heavy metals and other toxins found in the coal ash, Appalachian Voices field coordinator Kara Dodson said.

Of the 28 metals DENR is testing for near the coal ash spill, iron and aluminum are the two metals at or above surface water quality standards. Some initial water quality samples taken downstream of the spill site indicated excesses of state surface water standards for arsenic, iron, aluminum and copper.

However, subsequent tests taken at the same sites have shown that neither arsenic nor copper exceed surface water standards, according to a statement from NCDENR.

Iron and aluminum have been high in historic water quality sampling conducted prior to the coal ash spill and are naturally occurring in soils in North Carolina.

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