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It's Time To Get Visceral About Water - Part 1: Duke Energy & The Dan River Coal Ash Spill

by Leslie Gabriel February 16, 2014

Coal ash contamination in the Dan River at the Danville, VA drinking water intake. Approximately 20 miles downstream from the spill.

Gross !!! 

This is the Dan River in North Carolina immediately after the recent Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill. And what are we gonna do about it ?? Sometimes the universe gives us a wake up call and this is one huge alarm clock without a snooze button.

I first read about the Duke coal-ash spill in Huff Post Green. The February 4 story reported an “unknown amount” of coal ash had been released into the Dan River due to a broken pipe from an abandoned Duke Energy site. I felt sick and angry when I read the news. My immediate and admittedly biased assumption was that here’s another “accident” by a neglectful billion-dollar power company that doesn’t care about the environment from which they feed their greed.

More recent sources report that Duke Energy, the largest provider of electric power in the US according to Reuters, first estimated 82,000 tons of ash had seeped into the Dan River. But mysteriously, Duke's own experts revised that calculation to less than half the original amount.That doesn't sound shady at all.

I’m glad to see that U.S. prosecutors have opened a criminal probe of the energy company and I pray they’ll be held accountable in every possible way if found guilty. But I wonder if Duke’s recalculation, even if true, matters one bit when it comes to the environmental devastation dumping tons of coal ash into a waterway might cause.

The news site Wunderground explains that coal ash is just what it sounds like—the ash leftover after coal is burned. It contains heavy metal toxins such as lead and mercury and arsenic. Residents downstream from the spill have been warned not to drink or be in contact with local water sources until safety tests have been cleared. When you don’t have safe drinking water does it matter if it was 40 or 80 tons of poison that were dumped into your water? When the fish and birds begin to die and the whole ecosystem lies barren for a generation or two will Duke Energy really feel any better that they only allowed 35 tons of toxic sludge and not 82 tons seep into the Dan River?

Like most people, I become frustrated and worried when environmental disasters happen. Where will the people and animals get clean water? How can I help, how can we stop it from happening again? Personal activism is my only answer at times like these. If we conserve, run our homes on solar power, drive hybrids, drive less, buy local goods, maybe we can reduce the demand for toxic power and prevent the next big disaster from happening. Joining local groups that educate me on environmental issues in my own area is also something I can do--get involved.

Regional involvement is the key to any successful grassroots activism. To help make a difference on the Dan River Coal Ash Spill, you can contact ...

Here is what the spill looks like unedited.

Leslie Gabriel
Leslie Gabriel


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