Virginia works on its own cleanup program for Dan River ash spill

Virginia’s environmental evaluation of the Dan River following the coal ash spill in nearby North Carolina continues to focus on potential long-term effects on water quality and aquatic life in the river.

Sampling results of the treated drinking water for Virginia localities that use the Dan River have consistently met or exceeded all applicable federal and state standards, and there are no public health concerns with drinking water, said the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in a March 10 statement.

Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) reported the spill from a shut power plant in upstream Eden, N.C., on Feb. 2. The release of coal ash into the river has been halted, and removal of ash deposits in the river is under way. Duke Energy has permanently plugged the 36-inch and 48-inch storm water pipes that led to the spill. Duke estimates that 30,000 to 39,000 tons of ash was released into the Dan River.

“In Virginia, we are focusing now on the health of the Dan River over the long term,” said David Paylor, Director of the Department of Environmental Quality. “We intend to hold Duke Energy fully accountable. It is likely that several years of monitoring will be required, and we want to ensure that people and the environment remain protected.”

DEQ is coordinating the Virginia state agency response and has:

  • Compiled historical monitoring data and drafted a summary of water quality conditions on the Dan River from before the spill to enable comparison with post-spill conditions.
  • Collected water and sediment samples from the North Carolina line to an area west of South Boston. No violations of Virginia’s water quality standards have been found, and sample collections are continuing.
  • Coordinated with local water treatment facilities and the Virginia Department of Health to ensure the ongoing safety of public water supplies. The drinking water quality has not been impaired and remains safe.
  • Collected fish samples from the river to evaluate for metal contaminants. A summary of findings is expected soon.
  • Coordinated with VDH on the posting of signs along the river advising limited contact with coal ash.
  • Reviewed records and current conditions at coal ash impoundments in Virginia.
  • Initiated plans for assessment of water quality, aquatic life and habitat in the river.

Virginia’s long-term efforts will include a cooperative state and federal monitoring plan to identify impacts to bottom-dwelling organisms that form the base of the food chain in the river. The study also will identify effects on fish and possible bioaccumulation of metals in fish tissue.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.