Press Release | January 24, 2013

Asheville Coal Waste Illegally Polluting the French Broad River

Samples taken by French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson expose ongoing illegal pollution from Progress Energy Carolinas’ Asheville coal-fired power plant, prompting conservation groups today to issue a notice of impending legal action for violations of the Clean Water Act.  The Southern Environmental Law Center sent a 60-day Notice of Intent to Progress Energy Carolinas on behalf of the Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Western North Carolina Alliance.

Sampling at five locations draining to the river detected a host of pollutants from coal combustion waste, including boron and metals like cobalt, barium, manganese, and nickel.  All are listed as toxic substances by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

“The Progress Energy power plant dumps toxic heavy metals into unlined holes in the ground alongside the beautiful French Broad River,” said Carson. “Earthen dams leak and this outdated and irresponsible disposal system is allowing pollutants to seep into the French Broad River.”

The sampling prompted conservation groups to send a 60-day Notice of Intent that seeks to stop the industrial waste from escaping coal ash storage ponds from unpermitted locations at the plant and contaminating tributaries of the French Broad River. Pollutants including boron, manganese, thallium, selenium, and others are also contaminating groundwater in violation of Progress Energy’s Clean Water Act permit, according to the conservation group’s notice letter.

“Wet storage of coal ash waste in unlined ponds causes a slew of problems,” said Amelia Burnette, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the conservation groups.  “Polluted water seeps through the earthen dams into streams, rivers and groundwater; and these impoundments can suffer from structural problems.”

“Progress Energy doesn’t have a license to discharge polluted wastewater from its leaking coal ash ponds along the French Broad River,” said Kelly Martin, NC Beyond Coal Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club.  “Progress can’t continue to ignore the pollution that results from storing toxic ash left from burning coal.”

The plant has two old coal ash ponds, built in 1964 and 1982, that sprawl over 90 acres adjacent to the French Broad River.  The City of Asheville is about seven miles downstream from the plant.  Ash pond seepage has been documented for at least three decades, according to public records obtained by the groups.  The utility recently estimated leakage from the older impoundment may be as high as 1 million gallons per day.

“Storing coal ash waste in a hole in the ground without liners or leachate collection systems is an outdated, 1950s style approach to waste management,” said Donna Lisenby, Waterkeeper Alliance. “Earthen dams don’t properly contain heavy metals and other pollutants found in coal ash because earthen dams leak.”

The Notice of Intent, required as a pre-requisite to litigation, provides the utility a 60-day window to address the Clean Water Act violations before the conservation groups file a lawsuit.

About Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 1.4 million members and supporters nationwide. The Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation.
Visit us on the web at and follow us on Twitter at @sierra_club.

About Waterkeeper Alliance
Waterkeeper Alliance unites more than 200 Waterkeeper organizations that are on the front lines of the global water crisis patrolling and protecting more than 1.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Waterkeepers emphasize citizen advocacy to defend the fundamental human right to swimmable, drinkable, and fishable waters, and combine firsthand knowledge of their waterways with an unwavering commitment to the rights of their communities and to the rule of law.

About Western North Carolina Alliance
For 30 years, the Western North Carolina Alliance has been a trusted community partner, marshaling grassroots support to keep our forests healthy, our air and water clean, and our communities vibrant. WNCA empowers citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environment of Western North Carolina.

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