Coal ash infrastructure fails in wake of Florence’s destruction

This bird’s-eye view of Duke Energy’s Sutton site from 2105 shows its watery surroundings along Sutton Lake and the Cape Fear River, which is reaching record flood levels this week following Hurricane Florence. (© Nancy Pierce/Flight by Southwings)

As Hurricane Florence continues to churn across the Southeast with many communities still in danger or waiting to fully assess damage, SELC is closely watching the developing situation around the coal ash stored at Duke Energy’s Sutton Power Station, near Wilmington, N.C. The plant and tons of toxic coal ash sit alongside the Cape Fear River.

While we are awaiting more information on the extent of the damage at this site, current reports discuss an undetermined amount of coal ash released from a storage landfill, but Duke has said that some coal ash may have made its way into Sutton Lake, a large public lake used for fishing and recreation that is also connected to the Cape Fear River.

 

SELC Senior Attorney Frank Holleman, who leads SELC’s coal ash litigation, offered the following statement:

This spill illustrates the dangers of Duke Energy’s practice of disposing of coal ash near waterways throughout North and South Carolina. Disposing of coal ash close to waterways is hazardous, and Duke Energy compounds the problem by leaving most of its ash in primitive unlined pits filled with water. In fact, at six locations in North Carolina, Duke Energy wants to leave coal ash in unlined pits next to waterways forever. Coal ash contains toxic substances like arsenic, mercury, lead, and selenium, and a coal ash spill not only pollutes waterways with sludge but also with toxic pollutants. In this instance, it appears that Duke Energy has not done enough to ensure that its new Wilmington landfill safely stores coal ash. After this storm, we hope that Duke Energy will commit itself to removing its ash from all its unlined waterfront pits and, if it refuses, that the state of North Carolina will require it to remove the ash from these unlined pits. We also hope that Duke Energy will take the necessary steps to ensure that its landfill at Sutton in Wilmington is secure and will not spill when there are storms, floods, or hurricanes.”


Listen to Holleman discuss the coal ash threat with Ari Shapiro on NPR's All Things Considered

 


Meanwhile, officials are closely watching other sites in North Carolina and in South Carolina. One site receiving a lot of attention is the coal ash stored at Santee-Cooper’s Grainger station, north of Myrtle Beach, along the Waccamaw River. The river isn’t expected to peak until Wednesday and levels are predicted to be higher than 2015, when the plant’s coal ash ponds were breached.


Please note, the Red Cross is collecting donations to help with the recovery and rebuilding in North and South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

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