RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Duke Energy is working to clean up the site that caused one of the largest coal ash disasters in U.S. history.
WNCN Investigates toured Duke Energy’s coal excavation operations at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden Thursday, where the company said it is on target to have the site cleaned up by the state-mandated deadline of 2019.
The tour comes just a day after the Environmental Review Commission received an update on clean-up efforts across the state.
“This is priority one for Duke Energy right now,” said Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks.
Nearly two years ago, a pipe burst, leaking 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.
Duke Energy is currently excavating dry coal ash and loading into train cars for removal.
“We’ve moved already more than 66,000 tons of coal ash here and expect to exponentially increase that with our rail system now in place here,” Duke Energy’s Brooks said.
Each train car is completely wrapped with a thick tarp-like liner that also covers the ash as it’s moved.
Duke Energy is moving more than 30,000 tons per month but will soon increase that to 60,000 tons per month.
It hasn’t been a fast cleanup, but Duke is picking up the pace.
“It’s not as simple as going out and digging up coal ash,” Brooks said. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done in order to perform this work safely and efficiently.”
Half of the coal ash from the site will be sent to lined landfills in Virginia. The other half will be stored on site – lined and sealed.
“We’re also monitoring groundwater around the site to ensure our activities don’t adversely impact ground water in the area,” Brooks said.
Recently, people living near ash ponds received letters from the state health department warning them of elevated levels of contaminates in their well water. But the state environmental agency says their water is safe and meets federal drinking water standards. Lawmakers say they want the confusion cleared up.
Environmental groups say they just want to see it all cleaned up.
“We’d like to see the agency do its job, follow science, recognize common sense, stop playing politics and get the coal ash cleaned up,” said Frank Holleman, Southern Environmental Law Center.
The state has not determined if any contamination is coming from the coal ash ponds.