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Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in Eden, NC

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in Eden, NC

  • Is an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC), the normal course of action for this type of cleanup?
    • ​Yes, under the Superfund Law, EPA prefers to address sites, when possible, as enforcement-lead actions in which the responsible party funds the action and reimburses the EPA for its oversight costs.
  • Why wasn’t the community allowed to comment and have input into the decision making process on the AOC before it was finalized?
    • The ongoing cleanup began as an Emergency Response Action without an Order and will continue as a time-critical removal action under the AOC. A time-critical removal action is implemented under Superfund and is not expected to take very long to clean up. Due to the short term planning and clean up, there is normally not a public comment period on AOCs for time-critical removal actions.
    • The EPA did have input from the States of North Carolina and Virginia and considered the issues, comments and concerns expressed during the community meetings and availability sessions that were held in Eden, Danville, and South Boston in finalizing the AOC.
  • ​What does the AOC require?
    • ​Continue surface water, drinking water, and sediment assessments and monitoring;
    • Remove any remaining coal ash from the Dan River from the Steam Station Release Location to the Schoolfield Dam to the maximum extent practicable as determined by EPA in consultation with NCDENR, VDEQ, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service;
      • ​Consider factors including but not limited to, avoiding inappropriate disturbance of sensitive ecosystems, and environmentally problematic disturbance of legacy contamination in the Dan River.
    • ​Treat water generated as a result of the work described above in accordance with NPDES requirements and applicable surface water quality standards for return to the Dan River;
    • Develop and implement a comprehensive removal Site assessment, including ecological, surface water, and sediment assessments. If EPA determines, based on the comprehensive removal Site assessment, that additional removal actions to address residual contamination are necessary to protect public health, welfare, or the environment, EPA will notify Respondent in writing of that determination. This Order may later be amended if further removal actions are needed to address such residual contamination;
    • Dispose off-site all recovered coal ash removed from the work described above in accordance with Section 121(d)(3) of CERCLA and 40 C.F.R. 300.440, and paragraph 27 (Off-Site Shipments);
    • Provide the EPA OSC a Coal Ash Spill Prevention Plan for the Dan River Steam Station, consisting of a comprehensive engineering report demonstrating that the post release containment measures have provided long term structural integrity of the coal ash impoundment; and
    • In the event the Respondent initiates permanent closure at the two impoundments at the Site, Respondent shall notify the EPA.
  • What is coal ash?
  • ​How much coal ash has been removed as of May 22, 2014 (effective date of the AOC)?
    • At 48” storm sewer outfall at spill site - 22 cubic yards
    • Danville Water Treatment Plant - 460 cubic yards
    • South Boston Water Treatment Plant - 6 cubic yards
    • Upstream of the Danville Dam - 294 cubic yards (and ongoing estimated that approximate 3,000 cubic yards at this location)
  • What procedure is being used to remove coal ash from the river?
    • ​Hydraulic dredging – vacuums the ash from the stream bed.
  • Where is the removed coal ash being disposed of?
    • The terms of the AOC require that the disposal of coal ash from the spill meet specific protective disposal standards for landfills, such as synthetic liners, leachate collection systems and ground water monitoring. The coal ash will be transported and disposed of at the Upper Piedmont Landfill located in Rougemont, North Carolina. This landfill meets all of the specific requirements for coal ash disposal.
  • ​Will it be possible to remove all coal ash from the Dan River?
    • No, because there are factors that need to be considered in removing the ash:
      • ​Ash is spread along many miles of the river and in some cases is mixed in minute concentrations with native sediment.
        • Note that there have been no exceedances in human health screening in the surface water samples collected from Kerr Reservoir for contaminants of concern from the coal ash.
        • There have also been no human health screening levels exceeded in sediment samples that we believe are attributed to coal ash. A few sediment samples had slight exceedances of screening levels for iron, thallium, and chromium. These contaminants are not an indicator of ash and may likely be from another source. EPA has provided these results to North Carolina Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Health, for further review.
      • ​Sensitive ecosystems – U.S. Fish and Wildlife has identified endangered species in portions of the Dan. In some cases, removal of ash may be more detrimental to the ecosystem than leaving it in place.
      • Historical contamination – Portions of the Dan River, particularly downstream of Danville, have deposits of contamination (PCBs and mercury) that pre-date the spill. Removal of coal ash in these areas may re-suspend this contamination, which could be a greater threat than leaving ash in place.
  • What are the potential impacts to human health?
    • To find out if there are potential impacts to human health, sediment and surface water data are being compared to human health risk based screening levels based on a potential recreational exposure from swimming or wading. There have been no human health screening levels exceeded in the surface water or sediment samples for contaminants associated with coal ash. The drinking water samples from the water treatment facilities are being compared to Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and other health based levels. EPA’s drinking water samples have shown no impacts to the local drinking water. According to data collected, we do not believe that human health has been impacted by this coal ash spill.
    • As a precautionary measure, EPA recommends that people avoid direct contact with the coal ash, including contact with submerged or floating ash. If you make direct contact with coal ash, wash it off with soap and water. While coal ash in this situation is wet and unlikely to become airborne, in instances where coal ash is dry, it can become airborne and pose a potential health hazard if inhaled over a long period of time.
  • What are the potential impacts to aquatic life?
    • To find out if there are potential impacts to aquatic life, EPA is comparing surface water and sediment data to ecological risk based screening levels. There have been some exceedances of ecological screening levels in sediment and surface water samples. Exceedance of a screening level indicates that continued monitoring, sampling and analyses may be necessary. A spill to a river ecosystem can impact aquatic life and animals in different ways. Coal ash can cover the habitat where animals live, or contaminants can potentially cause harm directly to aquatic life. We are determining the physical damage to the ecosystem by visually assessing the river and determining and verifying where the ash may have deposited.  We are also looking at the concentrations of contaminants that dissolve in the river water. Dissolved concentrations in surface water help identify possible impacts to aquatic life. EPA plans to continue monitoring both sediment and surface water concentrations for potential impacts to aquatic life.
  • What is the long term quality of the river fish consumption?
    • Due to historical activities not associated with the coal ash release, Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has an existing fish consumption advisory for the Kerr Reservoir and it includes the Dan River and parts of the Hyco and Banister rivers. Certain species of fish in these waters contain elevated levels of methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Results of the analysis of fish tissue samples collected from the Dan River after the coal ash release do not warrant additional fish consumption advisories. Visit the Virginia Department of Health fish advisories pageExit Kerr Lake in North Carolina is covered by a statewide ban on eating largemouth bass due to methylmercury. View more information on fish consumption advisories in North Carolina.Exit
  • Has the coal ash spill affected local agriculture?
    • EPA has sampled the drinking water, surface water, and sediments along the Dan River. While we have not sampled agricultural crops or stock, we can say that according to data collected, we do not believe that human health has been impacted from the detected concentrations in the sediment nor surface waters. Please consult with your state or local department of agriculture if you have any concerns.
  • Has coal ash entered Kerr Reservoir?
    • There have been reports of sightings of discolored water believed to contain coal ash entering Lake Kerr; however
      • Chemical analysis of water and sediment samples collected from the John H. Kerr Reservoir to date, have not confirmed the presence of levels of hazardous substances attributable to coal ash, particularly arsenic and selenium, in the lake.
      • It should be noted that prior to the coal ash spill, portions of the Dan River and Kerr Lake were already under fish consumption advisories due to the presence of contaminants not related to the coal ash spill. Those advisories remain in place.
  • ​Are the Dan River and Kerr Reservoir (also known as Kerr Lake) safe for recreational use?
    • EPA has conducted extensive sampling of water and sediment for metals of concern which may be present in coal ash, such as arsenic and selenium, all along the Dan River and into Kerr Reservoir.
    • Once surface water and sediment samples are analyzed for these contaminants, the results are compared to the EPA’s screening levels to evaluate potential impacts to human health and the environment.
    • There have been no exceedances in human health screening in the surface water samples collected from Kerr Reservoir for contaminants of concern from the coal ash.
    • A few sediment samples had slight exceedances of screening levels for iron, thallium, and chromium. These contaminants are not an indicator of ash and may likely be from another source. EPA has provided these results to North Carolina Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Health, for further review.
    • EPA’s drinking water samples have shown no impacts to local drinking water.
    • As a precautionary measure, EPA recommends that people avoid direct contact with the coal ash, including contact with submerged or floating ash. If you make direct contact with a material that you believe to be coal ash, wash it off with soap and water.
    • It should be noted that prior to the coal ash spill, portions of the Dan River and Kerr Lake were already under fish consumption advisories due to the presence of contaminants not related to the coal ash spill. Those advisories remain in place.
    • Please note that direct contact or ingestion of untreated river or lake water could potentially expose an individual to contaminants not associated with coal ash such as bacteria or viruses.
  • What areas in the Dan River have been sampled and how long will EPA continue to sample?
    • EPA has been collecting water quality and sediment samples at the spill source and multiple locations upstream and downstream from the spill site. Sample locations include both raw water intakes and finished potable water at the Danville, South Boston and Clarksville Water Treatment Plants. View sample results and sample location maps.  A long term study to monitor surface water and sediment will help determine the need for future sampling and coal ash removal.
  • What is a screening level?
    • Screening levels are values used by EPA to help determine if a contaminant should be considered for further evaluation. A determination that a sample result is higher than a screening level does not imply that adverse health effects will occur.
  • What does "background" or "upgradient" mean?
    • For the Eden coal ash spill, sediment and surface water samples have been taken in the Dan River upstream of where the ash entered the river. This is to try and determine what concentrations of some contaminants are in the river before being impacted from the ash spill.
  • When reviewing EPA’s data, what do the units (a) milligram per kilogram (mg/Kg), (b) milligrams per liter (mg/L), and (c) part per million (ppm) mean?
    • Mg/Kg, mg/L, and ppm are all terms for the amount of a chemical or contaminant per unit of weight or volume of sediment or water. To help visualize what this means, one ppm is 1 inch in 16 miles or $1 out of $1 million.