Mountain of Coal Ash Spills Into NC River
But officials say drinking water is safe
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 5, 2014 1:01 PM CST
In this photo taken Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 and made available by Appalachian Voices, what might be coal ash is on the banks of the Dan River in Eden, NC.   (AP Photo/Appalachian Voices, HO)

(Newser) – Somewhere between 50,000 and 82,000 tons of coal ash have spilled into a river that flows between North Carolina and Virginia since Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reports. But municipal officials as well as the owner of the retired coal plant involved, Duke Energy, insist the drinking water supply is safe. Corporate officials are blaming a broken storm water pipe under a waste containment area for the leak, which also caused 24 million to 27 million gallons of basin water from a coal ash reservoir to spill into the Dan River. The state is currently testing water samples both upstream and downstream of the leak.

A temporary plug has stopped most of the flow, the company says, but the leak at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, NC, has not yet been completely fixed. Eden officials say its water is OK because it is upstream; Danville, Va., the closest downstream city, has treated its contaminated water and does not anticipate any future problems with the water, officials say. Coal ash is what's left over after burning coal, which contains heavy metals—many of them toxic—including arsenic, mercury, and lead. RT notes that Duke Energy waited 24 hours to publicly announce the broken pipe, though regulators were informed immediately. Environmentalists are criticizing Duke; several groups say the company's storage policies aren't safe enough.