Two water protection groups are teaming up to continue monitoring the Dan River for large deposits of coal ash from a massive spill in North Carolina that flowed into Virginia.
The planned long-term monitoring comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded Thursday that Duke Energy had completed the removal of large pockets of coal ash.
The monitoring will be conducted by the Roanoke River Basin Association and the Dan River Basin Association. The groups are fearful coal ash containing an array of toxic heavy metals will continue to be churned up from the river bottom during floods or storms.
“We know that river better than anyone so we know where the coal ash is most likely to move, to stay and collect,” said Tiffany Haworth, executive director of the Dan River group. “We will continue to monitor the river and look for these high deposits of coal ash.”
The testing will complement a range of monitoring already announced before the EPA declared it had removed the largest collections of ash, including 2,500 tons scooped up from a 20-by-350-yard section of the river in Danville.
The coal ash, which had collected behind a dam, was the result of a Feb. 2 breach at a waste dump 24 miles upriver from Danville. Duke Energy estimates about 39,000 tons of coal ash entered the dam after a drain pipe collapsed in Eden, N.C. Seventy miles of the river was coated with the gray discharge.
Myles Bartos, the EPA’s onside coordinator for the cleanup, acknowledged that only a fraction of the coal ash that spilled had been collected.
“Really, the threat is not the coal ash; it’s what in the coal ash,” he said. “It’s the metal that’s in the coal ash. The thing that we’re really concerned about is the concentration of metals.”
Bartos stressed that treated public drinking water supplies in Danville and South Boston tested above safe drinking standards.
“The systems did what they were supposed to — take particulate out of the river water,” he said.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will test the water and fish in the river, as well as river sediments, over the next two years, spokesman William Hayden said. The DEQ’s counterpart in North Carolina, as well as Duke and federal agencies, will also continue to monitor the river.
Andrew Lester, executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association, said while he is aware of the continued testing, the water groups are still committed to conducting their own monitoring.
“Our philosophy is, you trust but you verify,” he said.
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