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Wednesday, March 18, 2015
After Toxic Ash Spill, Energy Company And Locals Struggle Over Solution
When utility companies burn coal to make electricity — and it generated 39 percent of U.S. energy in 2013 — it leaves behind ash that can contain arsenic, selenium, boron and many other toxic substances.
For decades, that ash simply has been buried in pits near the power plants and covered with water. Now, in North Carolina, it's become a multibillion dollar problem. After a massive spill into the Dan River last year, the state ordered Duke Energy to clean up more than 100 million tons of stored coal ash, and the company has drawn up a plan that involves transporting it to two abandoned clay mines in Lee County.
Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices, shows her hand covered with wet coal ash taken from the Dan River, which swirls in the background in February 2014. The Duke Energy spill coated 70 miles of the river with toxic sludge containing arsenic, selenium, and boron.
The nonabsorbent quality of the clay in the area is one reason Duke Energy and its contractor bought the Cherokee Clay and Brick mine across the road, and another in the next county over.
The plan is to dig up about 10 million tons of coal ash at 14 of the most critical sites across the state and bring it here on trucks and rail cars to a dry, lined landfill. The clay, they say, adds another layer of protection against leaks.
Duke Energy is the largest electric utility company in the country. After the spill last year that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in coal-ash slurry, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a first-ever statewide law requiring a coal-ash cleanup effort. That will start with identifying the most dangerous sites and devising long-term storage plans. npr