Dan River Coal Ash Spill

Issue: Environmental disaster caused by toxic coal ash

Duke Energy Coal Plant Waste Pond Collapse Leads To Environmental Disaster

On February 2, 2014, a drainage pipe under a 27-acre waste pond collapsed, spewing thousands of tons of coal ash and toxic sludge mixed with millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. A waterway popular with hikers, campers, fishing folks, and recreational boaters, the Dan River has been turned grey for miles. The Dan River also serves as the source of drinking water for the residents of Danville, Virginia, a town 20 miles upstream.

Update on the Duke Energy Coal Spill Disaster

Ten days after the Dan River spill, state health officials still warn people against swimming in the river or eating fish from it. Duke Energy has estimated up to 82,000 tons of ash spilled from two ponds at the closed plant. Scientists say the contaminants don't readily dissolve in water and usually sink to the bottom of the river, where they can pose a risk to aquatic life. Officials initially said their tests showed only elevated levels of copper in the river. They later said that they had misread the test results and said the level of arsenic in the river also exceeded safe levels. On Wednesday, officials reported that arsenic and copper levels in the river had dropped to safe levels but that the levels of aluminum and iron in the river remained above surface water quality standards.

The state Division of Public Health issued two health advisories for the Dan River near the spill and downstream: Health officials warned against "recreational contact" with the river or sediment, including contacting any ash that washed up along the river banks. Because contact with the ash can cause skin irritation, people should wash exposed areas with soap and water. Also, people should avoid eating fish or shellfish from the river downstream of the spill.

The waste pond is owned by Duke Energy, the nation's largest electricity provider, at its shuttered Dan River Steam Station. The power plant operated from 1949 until 2012.

Duke Energy estimates that the waste pond contained 992,000 tons of coal ash and that at least 10 percent has spilled into the Dan River.

Dangers of Toxic Coal Ash

Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal and is toxic. It contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals and toxins that can sicken if ingested. At other sites, the testing of drinking water containing particles of coal ash has been found to contain elevated levels of lead and thallium, which can cause birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders.

Long-term exposure to coal ash runoff can also have devastating impacts on river systems and ecosystems, including effects on local fish stocks. Young fish exposed to coal ash runoff have been born with eyes that had shifted to one side of their heads, or spines twisted into "s" shapes.

Contact Lieff Cabraser

From our Nashville office, Lieff Cabraser attorneys have successfully represented hundreds of homeowners whose properties were contaminated by coal sludge and coal ash in the Southeast, including in Tennessee and Kentucky. Please use the form below to contact an environmental law attorney at Lieff Cabraser or call our Nashville office toll-free at 866 313-1973 and request to speak to attorney Elizabeth Alexander. There is no charge or obligation for our review of your case.

Discussing your case with legal counsel who can call upon experts in real estate valuation and scientists who have experience in environmental disasters is critical for a proper evaluation of your rights and remedies.

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