UPDATE: North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has declared that Dan River is now safe for recreational use. Local news station ABC11-WTVD is questioning the announcement, after finding coal ash just below the riverbottom with the help of Waterkeeper Alliance.
It’s been nearly half a year since Duke’s massive coal ash spill, and the vast majority of the disaster has yet to be cleaned up. Common courtesy says Duke has a lot more work to do. Duke seems to think it’s done a good enough job for now.
In February, the coal ash dump at Duke’s Eden, NC, plant unleashed the third worst coal ash spill in U.S. history. The ash spread across 70 miles of the Dan River and into Virginia, carrying with it toxic chemicals like arsenic, mercury and lead.
Duke has worked with regulators to clean up the disaster, but according to a Charlotte Observer article, much of the coal ash remains. Of the 39,000 tons that spilled, only 3,000 have been recovered. That’s just 8% of the spill.
For Duke, that’s good enough for now. “…there currently are no additional deposits to be removed from the river,” the company said.
The spill shows the risks and long term impacts of failing to properly store coal ash. River sediment has settled over the ash, such that digging it out would risk mixing ash back into the water. Duke and regulators say they plan to clean up any ash that becomes exposed.
But the fact remains: Dan River—and the people and animals that live on it and near it—will be stuck with Duke’s coal ash for a long time.
That brings a larger point: Why we can’t afford coal ash spills in the first place. Duke said its coal ash dumps were safe. That claim proved false. And with anything less than a full cleanup of Dan River, Duke might as well tell North Carolinians their state is a company dumping ground.