Critics skeptical of claim that coal ash cleanup is finished

Friday, July 18, 2014
Duke Energy says the coal ash cleanup process is all wrapped up.
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Some people are skeptical of the claim that the cleanup is finished.

EDEN, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's the headline that has environmentalists and folks who live along the Dan River so fired up: "Duke Energy Completes Cleanup Work Along the Dan River." In Rockingham County, they just don't believe that, or they don't understand it.

"If you get out and go three inches deep in the sand, you're in coal ash," said Ben Adkins.

Adkins lives just up the road from Draper's Landing, a popular spot with fishermen and river lovers. He grew up here and talking to him, you can feel his love for the Dan River.

"It means everything to me," Adkins said. "I mean this is where I come in the summer to cool off, fish, hunt for clams. I learned how to swim right over there. It was the first place I knew God was real. It makes me sick. I got a three-year-old boy that'll never be able to come down here."

Accompanied by Pete Harrison, with the Waterkeeper's Alliance, Adkins used a PVC pipe to take core samples from the river bed and found 1-2 inches of a dark grey, shimmering substance buried under about three inches of brown, sandy sediment.

"You can see here this dark colored stuff is pure coal ash," said Harrison. "This is what taking responsibility looks like to Duke Energy."

Duke Energy has spent the last six months cleaning up coal ash that spilled into the Dan on Feb. 2. By the company's own numbers, 39,000 tons of toxic sludge spewed into the river after a pipe under a coal ash lagoon burst.

About 90 percent of that is still coating the riverbed as far as 70 miles downstream, but Duke contends removing it would cause more problems than it solved.

"They say they've completed the cleanup of the Dan River and I think it's more accurate to say they've stopped cleaning up the Dan River," said Harrison.

Still, the EPA signed off on Duke's decision not to clean up more ash as well as the company's request to stop taking water samples from the river. According to Duke, the company has conducted nearly 2,000 surface and drinking water samples in the Dan River and water quality has remained safe since the spill.

But Harrison and other environmentalists contend that, even if that's the case now, it might not stay that way.

"There's good science that shows this stuff does not remained locked in place," Harrison said. "We know that particularly when it heats up in the summer that the ash that's bound up with soil particles and that sort of thing can actually just erupt back into the water. For Duke to be wiping its hands clean and walking away is outrageous."

"It's ridiculous what they did to my river. Makes me fume," said Adkins.

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