Duke Energy gives I-Team tour of Dan River cleanup operation

First-hand look at how Duke Energy is cleaning up coal ash that spilled into Dan River three months ago.
May 12, 2014 4:08:17 PM PDT
The I-Team investigates exactly how Duke Energy is cleaning up coal ash that spilled into the Dan River three months ago.

There's still a pile of the toxic ash, and that spill happened back in February - at the coal ash spill in Eden.

For the first time, the I-team got a close review of the cleanup - 20 miles downriver and across the state lines - in Danville, Virginia.

Almost 40,000 tons of ash went into the river, and a big pile of it is underwater. So for the next month and a half, Duke's machines will be sucking ash and sediment out of the river, drying it out, and hauling it off to a landfill.  

"Different from a traditional mechanical dredge that you'd see scooping material out of the river...this is a vacuum dredge," said Jeff Brooks, with Duke Energy.

Underneath a barge is a strip of coal ash 300 yards long, 20 yards wide and a foot deep in places. About 2,500 tons of coal ash and muck are getting sucked up from the riverbed by a high-tech vacuum.

"The best way to imagine it is if you went panning for gold and you sift and you try to get the water to come out and leave the material in the pan...that's what we're doing here," Brooks said.

Once the ash has been sifted, the water is pressed out of it.

Duke says they've been filling eight to 10 containers every day, sending them off to a lined landfill in Person County.

However, while the Environmental Protection Agency approved process is sound, the problem is scale.

"This is the largest that we've identified and confirmed for removal," Brooks said.

Even if they get every speck of what's underneath a barge, it will be only a fraction of the 39,000 tons of coal ash that spilled into the Dan River three months ago. Environmentalists are concerned the vast majority has made its way downstream more than 70 miles and has become part of the river, perhaps for good.

"You can't dredge this whole river and they're doing what they can to dredge it now, but we've seen it past the Dan River. We've seen coal ash past there. We need to be looking all the way down to south Boston and all the way to Lake Kerr. It needs to be long-term monitoring, that's the point," said Brian Williams, with the Dan River Basin Association.


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