NC coal ash spill clean up continues 2 years later

Coal ash (file)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s been two years since North Carolina faced one of the biggest environmental disasters in our state’s history.

It was Super Bowl XLVIII. An underground pipe burst at a Duke Energy steam station north of Greensboro, spilling close to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

The toxic sludge spread 70 miles downstream. It took crews nearly a week just to stop the spill.

It sparked outrage from environmental groups who worried about the toxic substances found in the ash and its impact on water quality, crops, and wildlife.

Some people living near Duke Energy’s 14 coal facilities have found contamination in their wells, but Duke says there is no proof any of it came from the ash.

The company apologized for the spill and worked to clean up the river. After months of work, crews could only remove less than 10 percent of the ash that spilled.

In the meantime, all eyes were on state environmental regulators. While they discussed fines, regulations, and permits, federal investigators questioned the state’s relationship with the nation’s largest utility.

Duke Energy, the Department of Environmental Quality, and local environmental groups have spent the past two years battling out various lawsuits in court.

It didn’t take long for lawmakers and Duke Energy to agree that the millions of tons of coal ash across the state had to be cleaned up.

Six months after the spill, the state passed the Coal Ash Management Act, giving Duke Energy until 2029 at the latest to shut down and clean up every one of its ash ponds.

Tuesday at the Dan River facility, Duke has ramped up the removal of coal ash, taking out thousands of tons by train each week.

“This is priority one for Duke Energy right now,” said Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks. “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,” Brooks said.

The company is moving about 60,000 tons of ash per month from the Dan River site.

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.

WNCN Investigates has followed the issue every step of the way.

Our team has taken you inside the facilities, researched the science to separate fact from fear, uncovered violations, held all parties accountable, and even traveled to South Carolina to see how ash is being recycled.

The work is far from over, and for Duke Energy, it’s now a race against the clock.

WNCN will continue to follow the issue closely. You can see past coverage here.

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