For the second time this month, North Carolina officials have ordered Duke Energy to stem a leak of toxic water coming from beneath a coal ash dump in a decommissioned power plant. Authorities fear poisonous water could be entering the neighboring region's water supply as a result of the second spill.
According to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the state discovered the second leak during an investigation of the plant. Duke was first ordered to deal with a wastewater leak in early February, when a 48-inch pipe broke beneath a 27-acre ash pond. The leaky pipe pumped thousands of tons of toxic sludge into the Dan River, according to the company. Now, according to NC Division of Water Resources Director Tom Reeder, "this second stormwater pipe... may also be leaking water contaminated with coal ash pollutants into the Dan River."
Reeder added that "we are ordering Duke Energy to eliminate this unauthorized discharge immediately." The Guardian reports that the first spill left the Dan River in pretty bad shape:
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 US Fish and Wildlife Service advised that a massive pile of coal ash about 75ft long and as much as 5ft deep has been detected on the bottom of the Dan river near the site of the February 2 spill. Deposits varying from 5in deep to less than 1in coated the river bottom across the state line into Virginia and to Kerr Lake, a major reservoir.
Authorities fear the spill, already burying the river's animals and their food, will have long-term effects on aquatic wildlife, and advised people not to come in contact with the water or eat fish caught in the river.
Duke recorded video in the second pipe using a robot, and found gaps that allowed groundwater to gush into and through the pipe. Testing showed that the water was not contaminated until it went under the ash dump, and discolored concrete surrounding the leaks implied the contamination from the dump is not recent.
The company said that "after reviewing the videotape, we determined that no immediate action was necessary." Local officials add that toxic agents are being filtered out of local water sources, making it safe to drink. However, tests showed that water spilling from the pipe contained levels of arsenic 14 times higher than the maximum level safe for human consumption.
The company is under a federal criminal investigation for the initial spill. According to Think Progress, some local officials may be implicated in the probe:
Environmental groups have long warned that the states’ coal ash ponds are a disaster waiting to happen and that state regulators are too cozy with Duke Energy. The Southern Environmental Law Center has, on multiple occasions, attempted to sue under the Clean Water Act to force Duke to remove coal ash from unlined ponds. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for almost 30 years and still holds stock in the nation’s largest electric utility.
Some North Carolina lawmakers are hoping to pass legislation addressing coal ash dumps. Duke Energy executive Paul Newton apologized for the first leak two weeks ago, saying, "We apologize and will use all available resources to take care of the river. We will do the right thing for the river and surrounding communities. We are accountable." Those sounds like pretty empty promises right about now.