Dam breach at Duke plant in Wilmington; coal ash could spill — APNewsBreak

James Marshall
September 22, 2018

According to the National Weather Service, the Cape Fear River in Wilmington is supposed to peak Saturday around 8 p.m. Duke recorded more than 33 inches of rainfall from Hurricane Florence.

A landfill that was under construction at the site ruptured over the weekend, spilling enough material to fill 180 dump trucks. "While the state is now in emergency response mode, a thorough investigation of events will soon follow to ensure that Duke Energy is held responsible for any environmental impacts caused by their coal ash facilities", the department said in a statement.

"It's a very unsafe situation, and we don't yet know the full extent of the risk", said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).

A dam containing a large lake at a Wilmington power plant has been breached by floodwaters from the storm Florence, and coal ash from an adjacent dump might be flowing into the Cape Fear River. Workers cut off by the flooding were supplied by helicopters. That water has caused breaches in the dam on the south end of the lake, which is flowing back into the river. She said the company was in touch with local emergency management officials, but the high water levels meant "if the berm were to break there would be very minimal impact down river".

Duke Energy activated a high-level emergency alert at a retired coal-fired power plant in North Carolina as floodwaters from the nearby Cape Fear River overtopped an earthen dike at the facility and inundated a large lake, raising concerns of a potential breach.

If the coal ash pond at the Sutton plant were to release coal ash, it would not be a total failure due to collapse, as was the case at the Dan River Steam Station four years ago, where the ash escaped through an opening near the bottom of the pit.

The ash left over when coal is burned to generate electricity contains an array of components, including mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic heavy metals.

Gray material that Duke Energy characterized as lightweight coal combustion byproducts are seen floating on the top of the lake, near Wilmington, N.C., in a photo released by Duke Energy, Sept. 21, 2018. "Sutton Lake has spilled over into Duke's transmission yard, so they have evacuated their employees".

Michael Regan, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, said at a press conference Friday that it was unclear whether any coal ash had filtered into the river. Duke dismantled the coal-fired plant by 2017, but the grounds contained about 7 million tons of coal ash in waste pits at the time of its closure. That steel wall was under water, the company said, but an earthen part of the dam setting off the basin remained 2 feet above the surface. South of the city, Duke Energy's Brunswick nuclear power plant was shut down as the storm approached. A spokeswoman said they don't yet know how numerous spheres were released.

Widespread flooding has also caused contamination by human and animal waste.

Staff from the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental advocacy group, visited the site by boat on Wednesday and took photographs and collected samples of gray-colored sludge and water that they said was washing off into the floodwaters. The group said a private lab would analyze samples. The utility later agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.

"The Cape Fear River has spilled into the Sutton Lake". It plans to close all its ash dumps by 2029.

Earthworks around the lagoons holding hog farm waste across the state have also been compromised by floodwaters.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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