City of Danville using Duke Energy’s sampling results to soothe public fears over water contamination

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City of Danville using Duke Energy’s sampling results to soothe public fears over water contamination

While the Danville, Va., water utility is reporting that the water in their city is fine, you might want to know that they’re making that statement based in part on water sample testing that was done by Duke Energy — the company is collecting the samples and processing them in their private lab at its McGuire nuclear plant in Huntersville, N.C.

Barry Dunkley, the division director of water and wastewater treatment for Danville Utilities, tells Coal Ash Chronicles that the utility is also running tests with an independent laboratory. “We thought that was the right thing to do,” said Dunkley, but “we don’t have those test results back.”

He said that Duke Energy has to be granted access to the water utility to sample water at the intake and that they began sampling at 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, 26 hours after the coal ash spill began and moments before press releases from the company, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Danville Utility were released, all stating that there is no concern about drinking water in Danville, Va.

Meghan Musgrave, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said that she “will have to check” to see if the company is sharing testing results with the Danville Utility. When asked when the company began testing at the Danville water intake, she said, “If that’s what he said, I will assume that would be accurate, but I will have to check.”

Dunkley did confirm that Duke Energy is now sampling the water at the utility’s intake every four hours and that the water at the intake is gray, as is the water in the utility’s reservoirs, though he said the finished water — the water that goes to taps in the area – is clear.

During a media tour Tues., Feb. 4, at the Dan River plant, another Duke Energy spokeswoman, Erin Culbert, said that the utility is conducting water quality testing at several locations on the river every four hours. However, after the media tour, I met with two Duke Energy contractors who were taking samples from a bridge on the North Carolina-Virginia border — with a silver metal bucket and a rope — who said that they were only taking samples in that location once a day. Dunkley was not aware of that.

When Musgrave was asked for a list of exactly what the utility is testing for and how long it takes to receive the test results (the contractors said they had some test results within three hours), she said, “I will have to check.”

So, look for an update on this post after Ms. Musgrave, who was answering the company’s media line today, checks with someone at Duke Energy who knows what’s going on with water testing on the Dan River, the site of what is now estimated to be the third-largest coal ash spill in U.S. History, per Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance.

Duke Energy estimated on Monday that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water had already leaked from one of the Dan River plant’s two unlined, high-hazard coal ash basins. Via phone, yet another Duke Energy spokeswoman, Lisa Hoffman, clarified that the water and coal ash were mixed together in one stream. The spill is still ongoing as the company attempts to fix a 48-inch broken stormwater pipe that company and government officials believe is the cause of the spill.

The Dan River plant has been closed since 2012 and is in the process of being decommissioned by the company. There is now also a natural gas energy plant on that site.

Lisenby, one of many environmentalists who is calling for full disclosure from the company and the government on the spill and their water testing results, estimates: “According to BNSF, the net carrying capacity of a 53 foot rail car is 121 tons. That means Duke spilled the equivalent of 413 to 677 rail cars of ash into a public drinking water source.

“Even more disturbing than that astonishing and deeply disturbing news is that Duke Energy did not issue a press release and inform the public about this massive spill until 24 hours after it was discovered,” Lisnby continued. “If 500 rail cars of toxic waste, laden with heavy metals had derailed, there would have been immediate notification and quick news coverage in order to inform and protect the public. The delay in reporting this spill is inexcusable.”

Susan Massengale, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said Tuesday during the media tour at Duke Energy’s plant, that the company had 24 hours to notify the state and 48 hours to notify the media, so it is in compliance with its requirement to notify the public of the spill.

Several environmental groups and Duke University are conducting their own water quality tests, though those results aren’t expected for a few days.

The state of North Carolina has released some initial testing results that do not include heavy metals and have little to do with coal ash contamination at all.

A 2011 study by Earthjustice and the Sierra Club found that hexavalent chromium was contaminating water near the Dan River plant. Hexavalent chromium was made famous in the movie Erin Brockovich.



Hoffman, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, says, “I know you’re eager for more information on what type of testing is being done — we all are.” She said the company is sharing information with the government but is mostly focused on fixing the leaking pipe, that they still don’t know what caused it to malfunction — an attempt to insert a camera into it has failed as the company didn’t realize that “there are some turns in the pipe; what we’ve now realized is that it dips down,” said Hoffman.

When asked how the company didn’t already know that, Hoffman said, “This plant was built in the 50s, that’s why we’re working to learn all of the facts now.”

Hoffman said she is not able to verify what the company is testing the Dan River for and that they’re leaving that up to the company’s environmental specialists. “Certainly they know what needs to be done and they’re doing it,” she said.

She also said that she is not sure how many contract workers are doing the sampling and, in fact, though it was company employees who were conducing the sampling.

She also verified that the spill is still ongoing and that it fluctuates depending on the amount of water in the basin — note: it’s raining in Eden, N.C., as of this writing — and that they “don’t have a meaningful estimate” on how much coal ash slurry is leaving their property at this time.

Hoffman added, “The ash in the basin is a challenging material to deal with,” saying the company is trying to think of every possible way to stop the leak “so that we always have a plan b.”

Post by Rhiannon Fionn, creator of Coal Ash Chronicles.
Video posted from the Waterkeeper Alliance’s YouTube channel; taken by Donna Lisenby on Feb. 4, 2014, near the Dan River plant.


2 Comments on City of Danville using Duke Energy’s sampling results to soothe public fears over water contamination

  1. Out of curiosity do you know what the requirements for the energy plant are for the storage of this type of waste? Basically what I’m trying to ask is, why were the storage basins unlined?

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