- Coal Ash Waste Ponds Contaminated with Heavy Metals
- November 26, 2015
- Law Firm: Waters Kraus LLP - Dallas Office
- High Rock Lake, North Carolina is one of the country’s many dumping grounds for Duke Energy’s unwanted coal ash — the left-over waste from operating a coal-fueled power generation plant. The three High Rock Lake “impoundments” have a combined capacity to hold 5 million tons of coal ash. That’s just a small fraction of the 150 million tons of coal ash that Duke maintains, mostly in North Carolina, in 4,500 acres of coal ash dumps.
Coal ash contains a number of heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and selenium. These metals are confirmed causes of birth defects, cancer, and neurological issues.
Burning Coal Creates Toxic Levels of Concentrated Chemicals in Coal Ash, Expert Explains
When riverkeeper Will Scott recently participated in a team surveying the High Rock Lake area, unusually low water levels revealed unsightly orange streaks on the banks of the river where coal ash could be seen seeping out of the ground. According to Scott, tests of the lake’s water and of the orange streaks confirmed the presence of lead, arsenic and chromium — all in elevated levels.
After Duke spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in 2014, the power company admitted wrongdoing and consented to pay $102 million in fines and costs to restore the environment. Duke also claims that it will spend more than $3 billion to shore up its existing coal ash dump sites in the future.
But Duke Energy reportedly denies that its coal ash dumps are the cause of birth defects and other injuries to residents in communities close to the impoundments. In fact, University of Kentucky geoscientist Tom Robl, a director of the American Coal Association, boasts that coal ash is so safe, you could eat it for breakfast.
Not so, counters Dennis Lemly, a Forest Service biologist who for decades has researched the impact of coal ash on fish and wildlife. The process of burning coal concentrates the chemicals found in coal ash, and that concentration creates a hazard.
Researchers also report that coal ash is ten times more radioactive than regular coal. Nearby residents who breathe in the air containing tiny particles of radioactive coal ash may face increased health risks, according to Duke University’s Nancy Lauer, the lead author of a newly published study.
Though the United States coal industry suggests that coal ash is less radioactive than table salt, researchers have found that the ash released in a Tennessee spill was more radioactive than typical coal ash by half. And the types of radioactive materials found in the coal ash were many times more carcinogenic than the radioactive substance found in salt.