Hurricane Florence triggered the coal ash pit collapse which may damage drinking water
Duke Energy has reported the collapse of a coal ash landfill at the L.V. Sutton Power Station near Wilmington, N.C., due to Hurricane Florence floodwaters. The company estimated that approximately 2,000 cu yards of ash were displaced and it is unknown yet if the contamination has leaked into the Cape Fear River, the drinking water source for Wilmington, N.C. While Duke Energy said that the contamination has been contained, if not, the toxic waste could have carried heavy metals, arsenic, lead and mercury into drinking water.
“We think the majority of the ash is settling out before it gets to the lake [Sutton Lake],” said Duke Spokeswoman Paige Sheehan. “We believe the changes are minimal that coal ash constituents will make it to the Cape Fear.”
Additionally, there are at least two other coal plants in North Carolina that have been impacted by the storm, as reported by the Associated Press. The H.F. Lee Power Station near Goldsboro, N.C. has three inactive ash basins that may have contaminated the Neuse River and the W.H. Weatherspoon Power Station near Lumberton, N.C., has received more than 30 in. of rain, resulting in overflow.
Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds have previously been under scrutiny for toxic waste leaking into groundwater supplies. The company agreed to pay a $84,000 penalty fine to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality in Jan. 2018 for the contamination. They have been sited for nearly two dozen leaky sites surround the coal ash pits at the Rogers, Allen and Marshal power plants near Charlotte, N.C.
“Unfortunately, Duke Energy has spent years lobbying and litigating and still have not removed the coal ash from its dangerous riverfront pits in the coastal area, some of which are in the floodplain,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the South Environmental Law Center. “When a hurricane hits like Florence, we have to hope and pray that our communities do not suffer the consequences of years of irresponsible coal ash practices by the coal ash utilities.”
It will take several days for water quality test results of the Cape Fear River to return and reveal if the contamination has reached the river.