Floodwater from Hurricane Florence causes coal ash and hog farm pollution in N.C. to reach local rivers and lake.
As Hurricane Florence reached the Carolinas, floodwaters in Wilmington, N.C. caused coal ash and low-lying hog farms' wastes to overflow and reach public bodies of water.
On September 16th, The Herald-Dispatch reported that Duke Energy's coal ash landfill at L.V. Sutton Power Station near Wilmington, N.C, had collapsed and led to an unknown amount of contaminated water flowing into Sutton Lake. Coal ash, "the gray ash left behind when coal is burned, contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and mercury," according to The Herald-Dispatch.
Frank Holleman, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, explained in a recent interview with NPR: "Coal ash is dangerous being stored on banks of rivers because, first of all, it's just industrial sludge, and getting tons of industrial sludge into a river or waterway - or any amount for that matter - poses threats to the ecological health of the river. But coal ash also contains substances like arsenic, mercury, and lead. We just don't want these substances getting in our waterway when they pose risks to our waters and to the people who use them."
The Seattle Times discovered that "parts of the top level of the [coal ash] landfill washed away...leaving large scars where exposed coal ash could be visible under a foot or two or sand." According to The Herald-Dispatch, Duke Energy "initially estimated...that about 2,000 cubic yards...of ash were displaced at the landfill, enough to fill about 180 dump trucks." The Seattle Times noted that Duke Energy water samples of the wetlands adjacent to the lake's shoreline "did detect chemicals present in coal ash." They also noted that Sutton Lake is "used for public recreation, including fishing and boating," leaving local residents in danger of coming into contact with these toxic chemicals.
The Seattle Times reported that "Duke’s ash waste management has faced intense scrutiny since a drainage pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden (N.C.) in 2014, triggering a massive spill that coated 70 miles (110 kilometers) of the Dan River in gray sludge. The Herald-Dispatch also found that "environmentalists have warned for decades that Duke's coal ash ponds were vulnerable to severe storms and could pose a threat to drinking water supplies and safety."
"Disposing of coal ash close to waterways is hazardous, and Duke Energy compounds the problem by leaving most of its ash in primitive unlined pits filled with water," said Frank Holleman.
Duke Energy's plant was not the only environmental risk in the Wilmington region. The Seattle Times reported that "earthen dams at three hog lagoons" had been breached due to floodwater, causing a feces and urine spill. Three more lagoons had also experienced structural damage and 21 had been flooded by nearby rivers. The Herald-Dispatch stated that these farms' overflow is dangerous because their urine and feces' pits "can cause significant water contamination."
Wilmington's ill preparation for Hurricane Florence's floodwater levels came with a cost. The region must now evaluate how much environmental damage and water contamination occurred because of the overflown coal ash plant and nearby hog farms.
Stealth Power's recent blog post "The Unexpected Costs of the New EPA Coal Rules" discussed coal ash's environmental risks and the North Carolina Duke Energy incident of 2014.