Coal Ash Clean Up By Duke Energy Too Little Too Late
Sweeping a mess under the rug is never a good idea. When the rug is actually a fast flowing river, and the mess is a massive deposit of coal ash lying around, it is definitively an environmental disaster.
Unfortunately, out of sight out of mind is the apparent thinking of Duke Energy and of North Carolina state regulators. The spillage of 39,000 tons of coal ash, into the Dan River in February of 2014, has only been met by a half-hearted attempt to remove the deposits of poisonous sludge.
The toxic slurry produced by a coal burning power station includes poisonous heavy metals that do not burn off, such as arsenic and mercury. It also can contain PCBs, radioactive materials and other hazards of various horrendous descriptions. The spill occurred at a Duke Energy owned coal-fired plant located on the river. The pool where the coal ash was being stored had filled to capacity above a storm drain that collapsed, allowing the toxic mess to escape.
Duke Energy claims that after removing 3,000 tons of sludge they can leave the other 92% of the waste as it is, gradually being covered by sediment in the riverbed. They also claim that to disturb the sediment would only stir up the waste and spread the contamination downstream. That argument flies in the face of common sense, at some point it is inevitable that the riverbed will be disturbed and the sludge sent down stream. State regulators appear to have taken this sitting down and have not pursued the issue further, claiming that they are satisfied with Duke’s efforts.
The Duke Energy Corporation had revenues of $20 billion and net income of almost $1.8 billion in 2012. The local arm of Duke, responsible for the spill, is a regulated utility, Duke Energy Carolinas LLC, which serves 2.4 million customers in North and South Carolina, through its network of nuclear, fossil fuel and hydroelectric power.
Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop
Communities down stream from coal fired power plants run the risk of contamination from the ash and slurry of toxic waste that is left from the combustion of coal. Thankfully, this particular story is not yet over. The Federal regulators are investigating, and pressure is mounting in the community to make the cleanup happen. Hopefully, the cleanup will happen before these lurking poisons find their way into the food chain and the water table.