Photos by Appalachian Voices show coal ash entering Danville, Virginia's water supply. North Carolina and Virginia officials say the water is safe to drink.
Toxic coal ash has burst from behind a Duke Energy coal ash dam into the Dan river at Eden, North Carolina. Duke Energy workers are continuing to try to stop the spill while the ash continues to flow down the Dan River. Photos taken by the environmental organization, Appalachian Voices show that the coal ash has migrated twenty miles downstream to Danville Virginia's drinking water intake on the river, but North Carolina and Virginia government officials have assured the public that the water is safe to drink.
John Skvarla, North Carolina’s environment secretary, and Duke said downstream water that is treated by municipalities is safe to drink.Coal ash contamination in the Dan River at the Danville, VA drinking water intake. Approximately 20 miles downstream from the spill.
The Dan, which flows through eight North Carolina and eight Virginia counties, is known for its riverside trails and paddling. Tuesday, it was gray as concrete.
In Danville, Va., about 20 river miles downstream, a finger stuck into the murky water disappeared at the first knuckle. Dull white contrails of ash residue flecked the river’s surface.
“It was an issue we had to accommodate,” said Barry Dunkley, water director for the city of 43,000. “It created a lot of turbidity, and it won’t settle out so the filters are doing the work.”
Duke had expected the plume of gray water to be past Danville by Tuesday morning, Dunkley said. It wasn’t. Despite that, Dunkley said the city’s drinking water is safe.
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Since Sunday night, coal ash has been spilling into the Dan River from a coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. The spill began when a storm water pipe under one of the plant’s coal ash pond burst, causing solid coal waste and toxic water held in the basin to flow through the pipe into the river.
Duke estimates that up to 27 million gallons of water from the basin and as much as 82,000 tons of solid ash have entered the river. But the company still has not successfully stopped the flow, according to Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert.
Duke did not publicly report the spill until after 4 P.M. on Monday evening, though it was first noticed by a security guard who saw that the water level in the ash pond was lower than usual around 2 P.M. on Sunday.
Throughout the day, residents saw the Dan River changing colors and ash washing up on the river banks. Duke has not released any water testing results, despite the high levels of toxic chemicals, including arsenic, selenium, mercury, lead, and boron, present in coal ash. The drinking water source for Danville, Va., is located just twenty miles downstream from the breach.
Appalachian Voices water quality specialists traveled to Eden, N.C., last night to sample the cloudy river and document the spill. “It’s pretty clear that there is a lot of ash that has already migrated,” says Matt Wasson of Appalachian Voices, “the water is very gray and the sediment has coal ash in it. Already, the spill has clearly traveled to Danville.”