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article imageArsenic and heavy metals in Cape Fear River — Duke Energy

By Karen Graham     Sep 24, 2018 in Environment
Wilmington - Water-quality tests on the Cape Fear River near Duke Energy Progress’ flooded Sutton Power Plant show elevated levels of arsenic and heavy metals downstream from the breach of Sutton Lake Dam.
With some of the news media's filmed footage showing the gray, ashy-looking clumps floating in the floodwaters of the Cape Fear River last week, it was hard to believe Duke Energy's assertions that tests performed by the company said otherwise.
At least that was the consensus from David Burton and Matt Butler, with the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group that works to keep our waterways safe. They were on-site soon after the storm last week and saw for themselves the tell-tale signs of coal ash floating in the river's waters.
"This is quite obviously pretty different stuff,” said Burton, while dropping the oar in a gray, ashy-looking clump floating in the water. "The sediment’s really different. It looks like sand but sand sinks. And you can see the spherical nature of the particles there. It's indicative of coal ash."
Sutton Plant Update: Conditions remain stable on September 22  2018.
Sutton Plant Update: Conditions remain stable on September 22, 2018.
Duke Energy
Yes, there is coal ash the in river
Duke Energy had to shut down the Sutton power plant after breaches in the dam that forms Sutton Lake allowed water to get into the 625-megawatt natural gas plant that replaced Sutton’s shuttered coal units in 2013.
On Monday, the Triad Business Journal reported that Duke Energy says coal-ash byproducts appear to have washed out of an inactive coal-ash basin at its Sutton Power Plant and into the Cape Fear River as floodwaters forced the utility to shut down its natural gas units there.
The Sutton power plant is the second Duke Energy facility where flooding from Hurricane Florence has raised fears that coal ash may have spilled into a local river. The energy company did say cenospheres — ultra-light aluminum and silica beads produced as a byproduct of burning coal — have moved from one of the two ash ponds on the site into the lake and river.
Spokeswoman Catherine Butler says there is no visible coal ash in the lake or the river. But she said Duke can't be sure that no ash has escaped from the storage pond into either water body.
Levels slightly elevated
The Charlotte Business Journal reports that Duke Energy's water quality tests do show elevated levels of arsenic and heavy metals downstream from the breach of Sutton Lake Dam. But the levels remain “well within the rigorous state water quality standards in place to protect the environment,” the company says.
Yet, Duke reports there is no indication of any actual coal ash getting into the river from the current flooding. And it says the ash ponds on site remain stable.
State inspectors have also been monitoring the H.F. Lee Plant, near Goldsboro, where an ash spill occurred last week. Inspectors believe an amount roughly equivalent to a dump-truck full of ash escaped from its flooded ponds, which are covered with soil, vegetation and trees. The Neuse River has not been impacted, according to company spokeswoman Paige Sheehan.
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