Bed of Dan River is Poisoned by Coal Ash for 70 Miles: Turtles Emerging and Dying
Environmental Article from


The Daily Kos
February 2014

coal ash Dan River turtle
Hibernating turtles are crawling out of the poisoned bed of the Dan River and Dying on the river banks.

The bed of the Dan River is covered with toxic coal ash for 70 miles, killing hibernating turtles. The scale of this horrific, preventable catastrophe is now becoming evident.

As arsenic laced coal ash continues to pour into the Dan River from the Duke Energy waste dump, turtles are crawling out of the poisoned river bed and dying on the banks. Duke Energy has been ordered to stop polluting the Dan River but a second pipe continues to discharge suffocating coal ash into the water following the massive failure of the first pipe under the waste pond. The river bottom is poisoned by toxic ash all the way from the waste dump in Eden to Kerr Lake 70 miles downstream. Federal officials say that the coal ash is suffocating animals that live in the riverbed.

Water treatment authorities say that they have successfully treated and filtered the river water to remove toxins and that Danville's water is safe to drink. However, arsenic levels in the river continue to exceed federal safe limits. Heavy rains will wash the toxic waste further down the river over the coming weeks spreading the contamination over an increasingly large area.

Federal officials said Tuesday that toxic coal ash has coated the bottom of a North Carolina river as many as 70 miles downstream of a Duke Energy dump where a massive spill occurred two weeks ago.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advised that a massive pile of coal ash about 75 feet long and as much as 5 feet deep has been detected on the bottom of the Dan River near the site of the Feb. 2 spill. Deposits varying from 5 inches deep to less than 1 inch coated the river bottom across the state line into Virginia and to Kerr Lake, a major reservoir. ...

The Dan River system in North Carolina and Virginia is home to two federally listed endangered species, the Roanoke logperch fish and the James spinymussel. The river also has another freshwater mussel, the green floater, which is currently being evaluated for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Officials said the coal ash is burying aquatic animals and their food. The ash, generated when coal is burned to generate electricity, could also clog gill tissues in fish and mussels.

A second pipe under the huge waste pit has large gaps between sections where the toxic ash continues to drain into the Dan River. All of this mess could have been avoided had Duke Energy responded to environmental organizations' lawsuits by properly disposal of the waste in dry, lined waste disposal facilities with impervious covers. Instead, Duke stonewalled and gave large sums of money to the Republican Party in North Carolina to get preferential treatment.

State regulators expressed concern five days ago that the second pipe could fail, triggering a new spill. The water coming out of that pipe contains poisonous arsenic at 14 times the level considered safe for human contact, according to test results released by the state Tuesday.

“We are ordering Duke Energy to eliminate this unauthorized discharge immediately,” said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources.

Video taken last week by a robot sent inside the 36-inch-wide concrete pipe showed wide gaps between seams through which groundwater is gushing in, likely from the toxic dump above.

South Carolina's conservative Republican government has forced power companies to clean up their coal ash waste ponds, but North Carolina has not, apparently because of the close ties between Governor McCrory and Duke Energy. McCrory has refused to make public the amount of Duke Energy stock he owns, but as a former CEO and employee for 28 years it would likely be worth many millions if it were typical for a CEO of a large corporation. Records that have been made public show that Duke Energy has made large investments into the North Carolina Republican Party and the Governor.

The United States Attorney, eastern North Carolina district has launched an investigation into possible criminal acts by Duke Energy and the government of North Carolina.

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