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Asheville Coal Ash Concerns

Some local environmentalists are questioning the safety of Duke's coal ash ponds in south Asheville. There is some concern that a similar spill could happen here in the mountains.

Duke Energy says more than 80,000 tons of sludge and chemicals have spilled into the Dan River at its plant in Eden. The plant is located near the Virginia border. Duke Energy says a 48 inch storm water pipe snapped on Sunday. The leak has been stopped, but not before 27 million gallons leaked into the river.

There are conflicting stories emerging out of Eden about whether the coal ash spill is contaminating the area's drinking water. After touring the spill site Thursday, Governor Pat McCrory is calling this a serious accident but says initial water tests are reassuring.

"The Duke water standards and side sampling at this point in time are pretty confident that the drinking water is very safe we are just finalizing some further tests and we anticipate getting those tests tomorrow," said Governor McCrory.
But river keepers say their results show the water is tainted with extremely high levels of arsenic, iron, lead and other toxic metals. It's a disaster local environmentalists say they've been trying to avoid for years.

"You know, we've been telling Duke Energy, we've been telling legislators this is no longer you can say is an accident we couldn't foresee coming," said Hartwell Carson.

Carson is the river keeper for the French Broad. He says the massive spill in Kingston Tennessee in 2008 alerted many folks to the dangers of coal ash plants. His concern is that the dams at Duke Energy's Asheville plant could fail at any time.

"And if it were to break, I mean you'd be looking at a mountain of coal ash flooding over I-26 and into the French Broad River. It would shut down the interstate. It would decimate the river it would be catastrophic," said Carson.

But the power company says it works hard to prevent and protect.

"We take our responsibility to protect the French Broad River very seriously. Sampling continues to indicate that our operations are not having an impact on the French Broad River. Those coal ash dams are safe. They are regulated by the state of NC and they continue to operate as they were designed to," said Jason Walls with Duke Energy.

Duke Energy officials say unlike the Eden plant, there is no pipe that discharges into the river and they are also in the process of safely removing all coal ash from the two ponds.

Meanwhile, the governor said Thursday he will make sure Duke Energy does everything they can to make sure a spill like this doesn't happen again.


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