Regulators: Duke Energy pumped coal ash water into Cape Fear River

  • Posted: Friday, March 21, 2014 1:34 a.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina regulators say Duke Energy illegally pumped 61 million gallons of contaminated water from a coal ash pit into the Cape Fear River, marking the eighth time in less than a month the nation’s largest electricity company has been cited for environmental violations.

The pumping violated the terms of Duke’s wastewater permit at its Cape Fear Plant, State Department of Environment and Natural Resources spokesman Jamie Kritzer said Thursday. Kritzer said the agency has issued Duke a formal notice of violation, which could result in hefty fines.

Regulators from the agency said the illegal pumping had been going on for months. It wasn’t immediately clear if Duke’s efforts to empty the pond were related to a crack in the earthen dam holding back the coal ash. Duke first disclosed the existence of the crack to regulators on Thursday.

Inspectors are trying to determine the cause of the crack, but the dike does not appear to be in imminent danger of collapse, said State Dam Safety Engineer Steve McEvoy.

Duke did not respond Thursday to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

A Feb. 2 pipe collapse at a similar Duke coal ash dump in Eden coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge. Duke has nearly three dozen other ash pits spread out at 14 coal-fired power plants across the state.

The state is now testing water samples from the Cape Fear River for signs of hazardous chemicals. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals highly toxic to humans and wildlife.

Several sizable cities and towns are downstream of the Duke plant, including Sanford, Dunn, Fayetteville and Wilmington. Kritzer said municipal officials in those communities have reported no problems with drinking water.

Duke’s dumping was first spotted March 10 by the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance, which took aerial photos of two large mobile pumps at the facility. The pumps appeared to be sucking water directly from a large coal ash dump into nearby woods and into a canal leading to the river.

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