Spill spews tons of coal ash into North Carolina river

Story highlights

  • A broken stormwater pipe sent millions of gallons of sludge into the Dan River
  • Duke Energy and regulators are coming up with a cleanup plan
  • Environmental activists have concerns about drinking water and wildlife
  • The river supplies water to communities in Virginia and North Carolina
The coal ash poured out of a broken pipe into the Dan River, turning water into dark muck.
It took nearly a week to stem the spill, which sent millions of gallons of sludge from a retired power plant into a river that supplies drinking water to communities in North Carolina and neighboring Virginia.
Workers stopped the spill by plugging the broken pipe with concrete this weekend. Now government scientists and the United States' largest electric utility face a daunting task: cleaning it up.
Tests since the spill have turned up higher levels of harmful chemicals such as arsenic in the river. But so far, officials say tap water is safe to drink.
Some environmental activists in the area say they aren't so sure. They fear the consequences for wildlife and say that the situation shows state regulators haven't done enough to crack down on Duke Energy.
The utility has apologized for the spill and vowed to clean up any damage.
"We're committed to the Dan River and the communities that it serves," Charlie Gates, the company's senior vice president of power generation operations, said in a statement Saturday. "We are accountable for what has happened and have plenty of work ahead of us."
Concerns over drinking water, wildlife
Duke Energy announced last week that it found the leak in a 48-inch stormwater pipe at the retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, North Carolina, on February 2.
On Saturday, six days later,