Vance County residents concerned about coal ash in Kerr Lake


Thursday night, concerned citizens gathered in Henderson to talk about a plan to make sure one of their biggest sources of income doesn't come up ashy.

The Kerr Lake area attracts more than a million people every summer. Now, people in the area want to know if it is safe.

"We have to get fierce, said one citizen. "We are going up against the largest energy companies in the United States, one of the largest in the world."

Passion was high in the packed room. People were worrying about how the 35 million gallons of ashy sludge spilled into the Dan River will trickle 90 miles down to Kerr Lake, which is a big money maker for the area.

"It's about 1.2, 1.4 million visitors to the North Carolina side of Kerr Lake every year, that's not including the Virginia side," said Nancy Wilson, with Vance County Tourism.

Environmental groups say the lake is being tested, but spokespersons with the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources say entire results are pending.

They have confirmed it is okay to swim and fish according to the existing advisories in place before the spill.

However, the bigger concern is that the longer it takes for the Dan River to be cleaned up the longer more ash could make its way to Kerr Lake.

"If there are toxic constituents to the coal ash that are leaching into Kerr Lake depth, collecting on the bottom, would there be any long term impact and would there be any short term impacts to the economy here," asked Amy Adams, with Appalachian voices.

With the words "trace amounts" used right now in measuring the amount of coal ash in the lake, some are asked what exactly that means.

One woman made her point using a fish bowl.

"This of course is not in proportion to Kerr Lake, but we have another drip, and another, and this is two years from now, five years, ten years," she said. "You know what? By the time they have done litigation, by the time we have done sampling, split sampling and then they say it's inconclusive, the stuff is all over our lake."

Both DENR and the EPA say tests for Kerr Lake are pending.

DENR released a statement to ABC11 which read in part: "DENR is awaiting test results from the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal agency has certified some results regarding metals. The EPA will be releasing more results from sampling it has been conducting at more than 20 sites throughout Kerr Reservoir. Those sites are in Virginia. Also, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has conducted surface water sampling and fish collection at Satterwhite Point in North Carolina to determine any environmental impacts and impacts to fish in Kerr Lake.  

"Sampling of water quality, sediments and fish tissues will continue in Kerr Lake for as long as necessary to make sure the lake is safe for recreational uses. Health officials will continue to provide any updates if needed.

"However, if a swimmer comes in contact with what appears to be coal ash, health officials recommend thoroughly washing off with soap and water." 

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