EDEN, N.C. - As Duke Energy continues its clean up of a hazardous waste spill at a coal ash pond near the Virginia border and critics said it should raise red flags for other communities including Charlotte.
Tons of a chemical-laced slurry has been leaking into the water supply for Eden, N.C. since Sunday when an underground stormwater pipe burst beneath a coal ash pond near Duke Energy’s Dan River Coal plant.
That same kind of pond has been a lightning rod for criticism among environmental groups who said they pose a hazard to drinking water supplies.
Three of the coal ash ponds are near drinking water supplies in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.
"If we had a similar failure we would have a much bigger crisis on our hands," said Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins. "All we're asking for is for Duke Energy to clean up their coal ash waste and take it somewhere away from our drinking water reservoirs."
Waste is buried 80 feet deep with the residue of the coal burning process at the ash pond near the closed Riverbend Steam Plant on Mountain Island Lake.
"What is in coal ash is mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium. Heavy metals that we know cause a slew of public health problems," said Monica Embrey of the Charlotte Greenpeace chapter. "The (Environmental Protection Agency) has already labeled that these coal ash ponds are at a high risk for breaking and causing serious health concerns here in Charlotte."
Duke Energy said it's already in the process of evaluating options for decommissioning coal ash ponds at power plants that have been shut down like at Riverbend.
"We agree that the coal ash ponds are an outdated way of handling the coal ash," said Duke Spokeswoman Lisa Hoffman, "So that's why we're moving away from them."
Hoffman said Duke is already moving toward dry-handling of ash at plants that are still operating.
At those that are closed, the company is considering options including drying the ash and capping, as well as removing it by truck.
Removal could take years, Hoffman said.
Critics said with nearly a million people depending on the Catawba River for their drinking water Duke Energy should act quickly.
"How many dire reminders do you need that you shouldn’t be storing dangerous chemicals riverside, lakeside? You shouldn't do it,” Perkins said.
Protesters will be outside of Duke Energy's headquarters uptown Thursday, calling for changes after the coal ash spill.
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