Toxic gray muck containing arsenic and other heavy metals transformed the look of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina on Saturday, after Hurricane Florence flooding overflowed into an old coal ash dump.
As flooding predictions near the L.V. Sutton Power Station say water levels will rise throughout the weekend, a Duke Energy spokeswoman said she doesn’t believe the breach of the dam that turned the water near the Wilmington power plant gray is a threat.
Paige Sheehan wasn’t concerned about water levels but she admitted to Associated Press she can’t rule out that the contaminated water containing ‘coal combustion byproducts’ is escaping via Sutton Lake.
Drone video provided by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality showed light gray material flowing out of a flooded coal ash dump toward the Cape Fear River at Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington
A photo provided by Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group, showed gray muck floating on top of the Cape Fear River after floodwaters breached a dam at the electricity generating plant on Friday and overtopped a coal ash dump
The dam breach has potentially spilled toxic materials into the river near where people go boating and fishing
Striking drone images from Friday show water swirling with matter including mercury and lead which is formed into after coal ash as a byproduct of generating electricity.
Sutton Lake used to be the cooling pond for a coal-fired plant Duke closed in 2013 and replaced with a new generating station running off natural gas.
That power plant was shut down overnight and all employees safely evacuated.
The gray H2O is something inspectors with the state Department of Environmental Quality were concerned about when they traveled to the plant by boat on Sunday to collect water quality samples.
‘When the environment is conducive, we will put people on the ground to verify the amount of potential coal ash that could have left and entered those flood waters,’ Environmental Secretary Mike Regan said.
The river is believed to have become contaminated when the plant’s 1,100-acre (445-hectare) reservoir overtook one of three large coal ash dumps lining the lakeshore and contaminated the river with approximately 400,000 cubic yards (305,820 cubic meters) of ash.
The river (pictured Friday) showed swirling gray matter had possibly escaped from Sutton Lake a former cooling point for a coal-fired plant
Duke Energy characterized the disgusting matter as lightweight coal combustion byproducts
In a video provided to The Associated Press by Earthjustice, a turtle is plucked from gray muck along the Cape Fear River
On Friday, Duke security blocked access to Sutton Lake Road which leads to a public dock where many people go boating and fishing.
Duke would not allow the Associated Press to cross the barricade, saying the lake situation ‘continues to change’ and is ‘not safe.’
Hurricane Florence has soaked the area in more than 30 inches (75 centimeters) of rain from former and the rising Cape Fear River is expected to reached its peak level of flooding Sunday.
It will remain at flood stage until early next week.
Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group with a boat in the river, provided The Associated Press with images Friday showing wide gray slicks in the water.
‘Any big spill like this raises concerns about the impacts on the estuary ecosystem in the lower Cape Fear River,’ said Pete Harrison, a staff attorney with environmental advocacy group Earthjustice warned after a team member pulled a turtle from the muck. ‘This is Duke’s third coal ash spill in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, and it looks like it’s the biggest yet.’
The ash is left over when coal is burned to generate electricity leaving an array of components, including mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic heavy metals
The inundated basin at the plant contains 400,000 cubic yards of ash and has contaminated other areas
The L.V. Sutton Plant near Wilmington was shut down and the evacuation of employees it was confirmed
Floodwaters continue to overtop an earthen dike at the north side of Sutton Lake, a 1,100-acre (445-hectare) reservoir at the L.V. Sutton Power Station (pictured Friday)
The Environmental Protection Agency – located in the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of the Sutton plant – offered to help North Carolina officials with the incident but their services were declined.
According to regional administrator Trey Glenn dozens of staff are scattered throughout the impacted region checking on toxic waste sites and oil storage facilities.
Last weekend a rupture was reported at another coal ash landfill in the area that spilled enough material to fill 180 dump trucks.
In 2014, a drainage pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden triggering a massive spill that coated miles of the Dan River in gray sludge.
The Sutton 1971 coal ash basin has been affecting the area over the past week (pictured is Wilmington on Wednesday)
Flooding has taken over the area near Cape Fear River but a Duke rep says is does not threaten the wellbeing of locals
An image taken Wednesday shows the road being flooded by Hurricane Florence water
Hurricane Florence water (seen from Fayettevilla North Carolina Wednesday) is expected to crest this weekend
A road leading to a reservoir where residents go fishing was closed and reporters were not allowed to cross due to danger
A home on Rivercliff Road was surrounded by water Wednesday after the flooding from Hurricane Florence
Greensboro Fire Department boated across the floodwaters on Wednesday in an effort to save residents
Duke later agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. It plans to close all its ash dumps by 2029.
At the separate Duke plant near Goldsboro, three old coal-ash dumps capped with soil and trees were underwater Thursday after the Neuse River flooded.
Staff from the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance visited the flooded dumps at the H.F. Lee Power Plant by boat Wednesday, took photographs and collected samples of gray sludge washing into the floodwaters.
State environmental regulators visited the site Thursday, but said they could not make a full assessment because of high water levels.
A man name Augustine Dieudomme was pictured looking out to the floodwaters near his apartment on Tuesday
Russell Maloy was pictured walking over the railway bridge near his home Tuesday to check water levels
Cape Fear River (pictured Monday) was said to be at record height after Hurricane Florence
Duke spokeswoman Sheehan said any coal ash release at the Goldsboro site appeared ‘minimal.’
Meanwhile, South Carolina’s state-owned utility said floodwaters had also entered a coal ash dump at its closed Grainger plant near Conway.
Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said no significant environmental impact is expected because nearly all the ash has been removed from the basin and water pumped in to prevent the dike from breaking.
The company had placed a 2 ½-foot (72-centimeter) high inflatable berm around the top of a second pond that has more coal ash in it.
Gore estimates 200,000 tons (181 million kilograms) of ash are in a corner of the pond furthest from the rising Waccamaw River.
River forecasts project the Waccamaw will reach a new historic flood level this weekend, eclipsing a record height set by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.