Dan River Three Months After Coal Ash Spill

EDEN, N.C. – Paddle down the Dan River, and it might be hard to see what was so obvious just three months ago.

Coal ash coated the banks then, now it's seeped into the sediment.

"The most concerning thing I've seen is the fact that the river is now getting clearer and people are not seeing coal ash so they are not paying as much attention to it and thinking the river is fine, when indeed, the river is not fine," explained Brian Williams, Dan River Basin Association.

Williams added, "In the sediment, it's very difficult to decide where the coal ash is. It's already 70 miles downstream in places so how do you clean up 70 miles worth of river? You just can't do it."

Since the coal ash spill, Williams has he's paddled hundreds of miles up and down the Dan River, taking water and sediment samples and closely monitoring the smallest of the river's residents.

He says those at the bottom of the food chain, will feel the impacts first.

"If you have a stone-fly that ingests a certain level of arsenic, and then you have a fish that ingests, and then you have a bird that ingests ten or twelve fish, then you've magnified the effects of that toxin in the system," explained Williams.

Chemicals found at elevated levels in the river shortly after the spill, by the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, included arsenic, iron and aluminum.

Even before the spill, the state has reports showing groundwater samples taken near the plant's coal ash pond with levels of arsenic three to four times higher than state standards.

Now, the state is investigating a discharge near the spill site. DENR says its samples showed higher than permitted limits of iron and aluminum, and says the iron is likely to blame for tinting rocks in the discharge area orange.

"We're never going to get it all out, so the long-term effects, we don't know," explained Williams.

The storm-water drain blamed for spewing this mess has been bricked over. Duke Energy crews are rerouting the second drain that the state reported was also leaking coal ash.

The contamination seems to have stopped, but Williams says looks can be deceiving.

"We want it back to normal."

Williams says he doesn't know if at this point, it's safe to go swimming in an area with a lot of sediment where the coal ash can easily be stirred up.

Duke Energy says it will clean up the coal ash and says it is taking responsibility for this spill.

As for those groundwater reports from the state, Duke Energy is disputing those.

READ: 2WTK: Coal Ash Spill Opens Pipeline of Questions, Finger-Pointing

READ: Biologist Says Coal Ash Can Cause Fish Deformities

READ: Coal Ash Causing Drinking Water Concerns

READ: Duke Energy's Dan River Response


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