Major Duke Energy ash spill turns Dan River gray

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DANVILLE, Va. - The Dan River, which flows through parts of North Carolina and Virginia until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, has turned gray.

The reason wasn't heavy rains or wintry weather. Up to 100,000 tons of coal ash and 30 millions gallons of water were released from a pond at a retired Duke Energy plant in Eden, N.C. It happened when a 48-inch pipe from the 27-acre ash pond broke Sunday afternoon, Feb. 2. The polluted ash and water continued to pour into the Dan River as of Tuesday.

Duke Energy and local officials assure residents that the water is fine. End of subject.

But the crisis isn't over. In a prepared statement Duke Power indicated it has a long road to travel before the damage is stopped.

"We had some temporary solutions that have intermittently worked at times during the day, but we are still working on a short-term solution and a long-term repair," said Duke Energy spokesman Erin Culbert.

Environmental organizations which have filed a lawsuit to force Duke and other utilities to remove ash stored near waterways quickly point to the company's lapse in notifying the public. Sound like West Virginia?

The first public notification came at 4:03 p.m. Monday. North Carolina last year sued Duke over these ash ponds. The Eden plant closed two years ago and is about one hour from Raleigh. N.C.

North Carolina environmental agencies contacted communities which use water from the river. The first community is here in Danville, Va. Officials here report no problems with drinking water.

All water leaving Danville's water treatment facility has met public health standards, said Barry Dunkley, the city's water director. The pond is located 6 miles from Danville.

Coal ash can be toxic if there are high concentrations of metals. Results are as yet not known from water samples taken by the state and Duke Energy after the breach.

Duke officials say the pond's dam remains secure at this time. Erosion has been found on the side of the pond near the river. Engineers are working on firming up that part of the pond.

A 2012 report stated that the dam had significant hazard potential if the pond were breached.

Photo: Matt Wasson, director of Appalachian Voices, tests the water on the Dan River near Eden, N.C., on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, after Sunday's Duke Energy ash spill. AP/Appalachian Voices

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