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Dan River water sampled nearly one year after coal ash spill

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Leaders of North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) joined state Division of Water Resources’ staff Friday, Jan. 30, to take water quality samples in the Dan River, nearly one year after the ash spill at a Duke Energy facility in Eden, N.C.

Following the sampling, DENR officials reported the health of the river is very good.

Tom Reeder, Assistant Secretary for the Environment, stated in a Jan. 30 DENR press release, with the findings thus far, it appears the Dan River may have dodged a bullet.

“We will continue to perform testing on the Dan and its aquatic life, but we are cautiously optimistic that it has returned to where it was before the spill,” Reeder stated.

DENR filed four lawsuits in 2013 alleging violations of state law regarding unlawful discharges and groundwater contamination at all 14 Duke Energy facilities. In 2014, structural issues came to the fore when an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River in Eden after a stormwater pipe beneath an ash pond at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station ruptured Feb. 2, 2014. The pipe was sealed later in the month.

In the months following the spill, tests revealed the quality of the water in the Dan River had returned to its status prior to the spill, and state health officials removed a water advisory during the summer of 2014 after tests showed that contaminants associated with the spill were at levels appropriate to allow recreational use of the river. Later in the fall, DENR’s testing revealed aquatic insect communities in an area downstream from the coal ash spill were thriving. Because different kinds of insects have different tolerances for pollution, a study of insect populations is a recognized indicator of overall health of a waterway.

All downstream municipalities with intakes on the Dan River have reported throughout the aftermath of the spill their water has been safe for drinking using normal treatment processes.

Donald van der Vaart, DENR secretary, stated 2015 promises to be busy as DENR continues its work to close coal ash facilities.

“From cleaning up the spill to overseeing the development of closure plans for these storage ponds, DENR staff have been active in all facets of coal ash,” van der Vaart stated. “We will continue to commit significant resources to ensure all coal ash storage ponds are closed in a manner that best protects public health and the environment, as was directed by Governor McCrory’s executive order and the Coal Ash Management Act.”

DENR officials continue to conduct water quality sampling every month to ensure the water remains safe, and will continue to conduct fish tissue sampling as well.

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