EDEN, N.C. -- Arsenic, boron, chromium, selenium - those are just some of the contaminants found in coal ash.
The long term impacts of the Dan River coal ash spill are unknown, but WFMY News 2's Morgan Hightower spoke with a researcher who says he's seen some fish drastically impacted by coal ash.
Dr. Dennis Lemly has been studying the impacts of coal ash for 35 years. His research began at another Duke Energy plant, the Belews Creek Steam Station. There is one coal ash pond at that plant.
Dr. Lemley found deformed fish in Belews Lake that he says can be linked to the contaminants found in coal ash, namely selenium.
He found similar cases just last summer in Sutton Lake, near another Duke Energy plant.
"The type of poisoning from selenium in coal ash causes very shocking impact in terms of its impact to deform fish and wildlife," said Dr. Dennis Lemly, Wake Forest University professor. Dr. Lemly also works for the United States Forestry Service.
"From the coal ash, it starts in the water and it accumulates in the microorganisms, in algae and the benthic insects, the food items of the fish and wildlife, then of course when the fish and wildlife eat those food items, they're taking an elevated concentrations of selenium in their diet," explained Dr. Lemly.
Dr. Lemly says once ingested, these contaminants are passed through the reproductive cycle.
"By the time it gets to the fish egg, it could be 5 to 10,000 times more than it was in the water."
Could deformities like the ones Dr. Lemly researched be found in the Dan River? He says it's very possible.
Duke Energy says it will clean up its mess, but Dr. Lemly says the problem is the elements in coal ash cannot be contained. Once it is in the water, he says, it's all downstream.
"Selenium doesn't just disappear, it's a trace element. It doesn't degrade and it doesn't go away. It's always going to be there, the question is how much and to what extent it gets into the food chain," explained Dr. Lemly.
The future of fish and wildlife in the Dan River is unclear, but the cities that sit along it, say the drinking water is safe.
The cities of Eden and Danville say it's drinking water is clean, and Duke Energy says 2 it's constantly sampling the Dan River.
But WFMY News 2 learned this spill is not the first time Duke Energy's pollutants made their way to the Dan River.
As early as 2008, the city of Eden started noticing issues with its water. Terry Shelton, Director of Environmental Services for the City of Eden, says its drinking water was coming dangerously close to exceeding state limits, and at a few points did.
"We eventually narrowed it down to Bromine and at that point, we pretty much knew whatever the source was coming out of a tributary near the Blewes Creek Plant," explained Shelton.
He added, "We contacted Duke Energy and they immediately met with us and we started to work together on a solution to take care of it and they have worked with us quite extensively since that point in 2011."
The contaminant causing Eden's problem is still seeping into the Dan River. Shelton says that's because, "Right now, there isn't a contaminant level that's been selected by the EPA for streams and rivers and such at this point and right now, I don't believe there is even one for drinking water for Bromine."
Shelton says the issue is under control, and that the water is safe to drink in Eden.