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RALEIGH, N.C. -- A researcher told WRAL the damage from the Feb. 2 coal ash spill on the Dan River could add up to $70 million as a starting point.

Dennis Lemly, a Wake Forrest University professor told WRAL, "The impact of the damage is going to be at least $1 million a mile."

The coal ash spill dumped 30,000 to 40,000 tons of coal ash into the river. Federal officials say toxic coal ash has coated the bottom of a North Carolina river up to 70 miles downstream.

Lemly told WRAL the costs could well exceed $70 million, depending on the long-term impact of the spill. The following factors are what Lemly included in his calculations with WRAL:

  • The number of fish killed. Economic formulas put a cost on $8 to $20 per fish. The number of fish killed could be in the "hundreds of thousands, if not millions."
  • "The blackening effect of the ash on the river bottom, which has essentially created a graveyard," he said. Non-mobile aquatic species, such as mussels, as well as hibernating creatures, such as frogs and salamanders, will be affected by the coating.
  • Effects from the spill will drive away kayakers, swimmers and others who use the river for recreation.
  • Costs associated with those who are no longer able to use the river for subsistence fishing.
  • Lower property values associated with the contamination in the river.

Lemly also told WRAL the costs and damage done by prior spills also play a part in coming up with a cost estimate.