Heavy Rains From Hurricane Florence Cause Coal Ash Spill

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator

Record-setting rain brought on by Hurricane Florence has caused a breach in a coal ash landfill, contaminating local water and drawing cleanup crews to the scene in North Carolina.

Thirty inches of rain proved too much for a coal ash landfill near Wilmington, North Carolina. Duke Energy — the company that owns the disposal area — was forced to send employees to assess the situation after the 20-foot tall landfill eroded, releasing the chemicals to the outside environment. The energy company believes much of the coal ash was contained by an outside perimeter, however, it acknowledged some of the deposits were likely washed away into the nearby Lake Sutton. That lake feeds into the Cape Fear River.

“We think it is very unlikely it made it to the river,” Paige Sheehan, a Duke Energy spokeswoman, stated to The Wall Street Journal. “We feel very confident that public health and the environment remain very well protected.”

Coal ash — the residue that’s left over when a coal-fired power plant generates electricity — can contain lead, mercury, arsenic and selenium. The residue is heavily regulated by federal authorities, but the current administration has opened the door for state governments to manage their own coal ash deposits.

The coal ash in the Wilmington landfill is the byproduct of the L. V. Sutton Power Plant, a 575 megawatt facility that retired in 2013. Duke Energy has estimated that around 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash has been washed out of the landfill, about two-thirds the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Duke Energy is currently working on relocating the coal ash from a lagoon to a lined landfill. (RELATED: Trump’s EPA Lets Oklahoma Become First State To Regulate Coal Ash Disposal)

The Carolinas contain a total of 26 coal ash sites, but regulators assured the public that no other sites have been exposed by Hurricane Florence.

“We have no other reported breaches,” Reggie Cheatham, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Emergency Management, stated. “This particular breach is on site and still a ways from the Cape Fear River.”

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