EDEN, N.C. (AP) — A pipe under a coal ash pond broke in northern North Carolina, releasing an unknown amount of coal ash into the Dan River, Duke Energy Corp. said Monday.
The pipe broke Sunday afternoon at the now-closed Dan River Steam Station in Eden, the utility said. The ash pond covers about 27 acres, and the dam holding the water in was not affected by the leak, officials said.
A water quality-monitoring team is checking the river, but Duke Energy said downstream water supplies have not been affected.
Officials in Danville, Va., which draws its water from the Dan River downstream from the ash pond, said the spill did not affect the quality of the city's water supply.
"All water leaving our treatment facility has met public health standards. We do not anticipate any problems going forward in treating the water we draw from the Dan River," said Barry Dunkley, division director of water and wastewater treatment for Danville Utilities.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said in a statement that it is investigating, as well as helping to monitor water quality and work with Duke energy to clean up the spill.
Engineers have not figured out exactly how much ash and water made it into the Dan River in Rockingham County, although Duke Energy promised to make that figure public as soon as calculations are complete.
Environmental groups, some of which have sued Duke Energy over 14 coal ash dump sites in North Carolina, sharply criticized the utility for waiting for a day before reporting the spill to the public and not immediately releasing information such as results of water quality tests on the river.
"State environmental officials failed to immediately notify the public about a major toxic spill in one of our precious waterways. Coal ash is extremely dangerous and the communities near the spill deserve information about their health and safety," Stephanie Schweickert, affiliate organizer with the North Carolina Conservation Network, said in a statement.
Coal ash is the waste left after burning coal. It contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic.