Duke Energy officials on Friday held an information session in Danville, where they issued an apology for the coal ash spill into the Dan River from its shuttered Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.
They also addressed environmental remediation of the river, promising to “make it right.”
“I want to start with probably the most important statement that I will make today, and that is ‘we apologize,’ said Paul Newton, president of Duke Energy's utility operations in North Carolina. “We apologize for the accident that happened on the Dan River site. We are working 24 hours a day to permanently plug that leak. You have our commitment to tirelessly work to do that. We have hundreds of people on site, including engineers, scientists and environmental experts.”
He continued saying, “The second thing we are committed to is the environmental remediation. Whatever it may be that is required of the river, you have our complete, 100 percent commitment to make it right. Have no question in your mind about that. We take full responsibility.”
The 90-minute information session took place before a packed City Council Chambers. The meeting was arranged at the request of Duke Energy. City Council members and city staff were in attendance as well as concerned citizens and a dozen media outlets.
Mayor Sherman Saunders thanked those in attendance, saying, “All of us are concerned and we know we need information to understand what is happening and what needs to happen to continue to keep our citizens safe.”
A breech Sunday afternoon in a storm water pipe beneath the primary ash basin at the retired coal-fired plant caused a release of ash basin water and ash into the Dan River. Newton said the breech occurred in a corrugated metal section of the pipe.
The plant is located about 20 miles upstream from the city of Danville’s raw water intake.
“As much as we wanted it (the leak) to stop yesterday, life is not that simple,” Newton said. “Everybody wanted that leak to stop immediately, and all of our efforts were to stop that leak immediately.”
Newton said equipment first needed to be brought to the site.
“More importantly, you have to engineer things first,” Newton said. “You can’t just run out there and cap the ends and think you have it solved. … If you do that, you could make the problem worse. We have people working as quickly as we can, but as carefully as we can.”
Duke Energy is attempting to get as much water off the broken pipe as possible in order to allow excavation equipment to reach the pipe. Once the pipe is exposed, the plan is to put plugs on either side of the pipe, Newton said.
"Today as we stand here, it's much more stable," Newton said. “We have a lot of the water volume off that pipe, off the breech, so there is not that head pressure that is pushing ash into the river.”
Newton said the plugs would be installed in the “near term.” With the plugs in place, the company will be in a position to permanently seal the pipe.
Though the pipe is not yet plugged, Newton said there is no leakage “as we stand here today.” He said there could be intermittent leakage until the plugs are in place.
The basins hold 992,000 tons of ash. Initial estimates are that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of ash were released into the river, Newton said. In addition, 24 to 27 million gallons of ash basin water reached the river.
In comparison, Newton said a 2008 dam breech in Tennessee, spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of ash. “Here, we are talking about 60 to 100,000 cubic yards.”
“This is still a serious accident in our view,” Newton said. “It is a game-changer for our company with respect to how to manage an ash pond. … There are norms out there in the industry, but we are going to look at them differently as a result of this spill.”
He continued, saying, “We expect to have a lot a help with respect to how we mitigate these ash ponds, particular here with Dan River. We welcome that.”
Federal and state agencies are on site, Newton said.
Newton emphasized that water sample tests by Duke Energy and independent facilities show the water is “perfectly safe to drink.” Testing, which includes testing for heavy metals, will continue.
Danville Utilities is collecting water samples for testing. On Thursday, the city received test results that continue to show Danville’s water is safe to drink. The test results are from raw water samples collected from the Dan River at the city’s intake on Tuesday by Danville Utilities. Those samples were sent to a Virginia certified private lab. The lab tested the samples for the presence of heavy metals.
The lab found no detectable level of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, silver or selenium. Low levels – all below public health standards for drinking water – of boron, calcium, copper, magnesium, sodium and zinc were found.
The level of iron in the raw water exceeded drinking water standards, but iron is easily removed in routine water treatment, said Barry Dunkley, division director of water and wastewater treatment for Danville Utilities.
Results on subsequent raw water and treated water samples collected and sent to the Virginia certified private lab will be made available to the public when they are received.
Duke Energy and Danville Utilities officials fielded questions from those in attendance for more than an hour.
Citizens are urged to use the following list of websites to stay informed:
• Duke Energy – Dan River Response http://www.duke-energy.com/power-plants/coal-fired/dan-river-response.asp
• N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Dan River Coal Ash Spill http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/guest/dan-river-spill
• United States Environmental Protection Agency – On Scene Coordinator – Eden NC Coal Ash Spill -- http://epaosc.org/site/site_profile.aspx?site_id=9065
• Dan River Basin Association – Coal Ash Spill – Water Quality & Safety Information -- http://www.danriver.org/blog/details/id/91
• Danville – River City TV -- http://danville-va.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=2
• Danville – Local Government News and Announcements -- http://www.danville-va.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1515
• TVA – Kingston Ash Recovery Project – Fact Sheet -- http://www.tva.gov/kingston/pdf/KIF_Fact_Sheet.pdf
River City TV aired a live broadcast of the meeting. A video recording is available at RiverCityTV.org.