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The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality led a public meeting Tuesday in Danville regarding the coal ash spill and the response from Virginia agencies. Officials said they will continue to assess conditions in the Dan River and monitor remediation efforts.
"We're in this for the long-haul, we're going to make sure the right thing is done for the river and the right thing is done for the citizens," said David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
In assessing conditions, agencies are analyzing water quality data from water samples collected along the river. Agencies also are studying tissue from fish samples collected.
Paylor told a packed City Council chamber that initial tests on the river’s fish showed no immediate contamination by heavy metals found in coal ash, though the fish continue to test positive for mercury and PCBs — as they have for many years.
State agencies have reposted warning signs along the river regarding fish consumption limits. “Those signs were there before,” Paylor said. “They are only for the PCBs and mercury, but they are back in place.”
While the first tests on fish show no build-up of heavy metals in their tissue, Paylor said agencies will continue to test fish tissue to make sure the heavy metals do not build up in their flesh over time.
Danville’s drinking water continues to be safe, Paylor said.
Remediation efforts currently are focused on removing large deposits of coal ash from the river. Duke Energy has completed the removal of the deposit created below the discharge point at its Eden, N.C., plant. Duke Energy next will remove a deposit left near the Schoolfield Dam in Danville. Duke Energy is in the process of securing permits for removal of that deposit.
Paylor said only large deposits of coal ash would be removed from the river. “In other areas, the coal ash is so dispersed it would cause more harm to try to remove it. You would collect more mud than ash.”
Paylor said state and federal officials are in the process of setting up a natural resource damage assessment program. The assessment will try to put a dollar amount on the ecological, recreational and economic damage caused by the spill.
“We will then hold Duke Energy responsible for that,” Paylor said.
A pipe under the main coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s shuttered Dan River Steam Station located 20 miles upstream from Danville broke on Feb. 2 and spewed up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river.
Paylor addressed whether a coal ash spill could happen in Virginia. He said Virginia has 11 ash coal pits, and they have all undergone state and Environmental Protection Agency inspections to ensure a similar environmental mess won't occur. He said five of the impoundments are scheduled to be retired.
The meeting was held in the City Council Chambers on the fourth floor of the Municipal Building. In addition to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the agencies included representatives from the state Health Department and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.