DENR: Aluminum and iron levels still high in water downstream of Dan River coal ash spill site

Press Release

N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Aluminum and iron levels in the water downstream of the Dan River coal ash spill still exceed state surface water standards, although levels of those metals continued to drop, according to the state’s latest water quality test results.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ latest results come from water quality samples the state agency collected Feb. 7 upstream and downstream of the coal ash spill site. Duke Energy discovered the spill Feb. 2.

DENR staff members have been testing water quality upstream and downstream of the spill since the state agency was notified of the spill Feb. 3. As part of its assessment, DENR has tested for 28 metals in the river in order to better understand the effects of the spill on the Dan River and determine the most appropriate strategy for cleaning up the river.

Of the 28 metals for which the agency tested, aluminum and iron continue to exceed state surface water standards. Some initial water samples taken downstream of the spill site indicated exceedences of state surface water standards for arsenic, iron, aluminum and copper. However, subsequent tests taken at the same sites have shown that neither arsenic nor copper exceed surface water standards.

While aluminum and iron are naturally occurring metals in many rivers, state environmental officials remain concerned about the long-term health of the Dan River because of the spill’s initial impacts and uncertainty about how coal ash contaminants could affect aquatic life in the river over time.

DENR staff created a web page to provide the public with updates on the agency’s response to the Dan River coal ash spill. The web page can be found at Water quality sampling results DENR has completed can be found at

State public health officials have advised people not to eat fish from the Dan River or have contact with the river.

Other developments at the Dan River spill site
Duke Energy officials reported today they had permanently blocked discharges from a leaking 36-inch stormwater pipe
after installing a concrete plug near where the pipe discharges to the Dan River. Earlier this week, DENR officials had ordered Duke Energy to immediately halt discharges of material leaking from the 36-inch stormwater pipe. DENR’s order to Duke came after the state agency’s initial water quality tests taken where the pipe discharges to the Dan River revealed elevated levels of arsenic, a key ingredient of coal ash.

The Feb. 2 coal ash spill occurred after a 48-inch stormwater pipe that also runs beneath the same coal ash pond, ruptured. Duke Energy is working to fill with concrete and grout both the 48-inch and the 36-inch pipes.

About Carrie Eidson
Multimedia journalist and Green Scene editor at Mountain Xpress. Part-time Twitterer @mxenv but also reachable at Follow me @carrieeidson

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