Duke Energy owns a 376-megawatt coal burning power plant just south of Asheville on the banks of the French Broad River.
As part of the coal burning process, the plant produces bottom ash (the ash that falls to the bottom when coal is burned) and fly ash (the ash that is caught by the scrubbers in the smokestack). Both types of ash are stored in wet ash ponds, which are then held back by two of the nation’s 49 high-hazard coal dams.
Coal ash is an environmental concern because it contains an array of toxic metals including arsenic, mercury, manganese, lead, iron, boron, thallium, and others. The Asheville Power Station stores coal ash in unlined lagoons, which has led to ground and drinking water contamination in nearby wells. There have also been high levels of arsenic found in a stream on the power station’s property, and illegal seepages along the dam leading into the French Broad River. Mercury pollution is a concern here as well, as it is from every coal-fired power plant.
In 2013, WNCA sued Duke Energy for the illegal discharge of coal ash into surface and groundwater sources. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources took over this suit, and we are still waiting on a settlement that will protect future water quality and identify how to correctly store coal ash waste.
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Check out this 60 Minutes report on the problems of coal ash storage and the results of a major spill.