Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in North Carolina Pollutes Dan River, Threatens Drinking Water for Virginia Town

By Sean Breslin
Published: February 10, 2014

This Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 photo released by Appalachian Voices shows Matt Wasson, director of Appalachian Voices, as he tests the water on the Dan River near Eden, N.C. (AP Photo/Appalachian Voices)

A pipe at the bottom of a 27-acre pond in North Carolina has sprung a leak, spewing tons of coal ash into the Dan River – a source of drinking water for Danville, Va., a town 20 miles upstream.

Since the leak was spotted by a security guard on Sunday, more than 82,000 tons of ash have mixed into the pond, creating a toxic sludge among the 27 million gallons of water that have poured into the Dan River, according to an Associated Press report.

The AP also reported there is no timetable for when the leak will be fully contained, but since the pond has since been emptied, the flow is much lighter than before.

(MORE: The Alarming Change of Our World's Oceans in 2013)

Still, Danville residents are worried as they wait for test results that will determine the hazards to their drinking water or surrounding wildlife.

Canoe guide Brian Williams told the AP he is scared about the future of the waterway.

"How do you clean this up?" he asked. "Dredge the whole river bottom for miles? You can't clean this up. It's going to go up the food chain, from the filter feeders, to the fish, to the otters and birds and people. Everything in the ecosystem of a river is connected."

Coal ash is the remaining material after coal is burned, and it contains toxins like mercury, lead and arsenic, among other heavy metals that can sicken if ingested, according to a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility.

A similar coal ash spill occurred in a Tennessee river in 2008, polluting the waterway with millions of cubic yards of coal waste, reports.

MORE: West Virginia Chemical Spill Taints Drinking Water

Al Jones of the West Virginia department of General Services tests the water as he flushes the faucet and opens a rest room on the first floor of the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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