Yadkin Riverkeeper learned yesterday that the U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation on the Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River that occurred on Feb. 2.  

At the same time, Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper independently released results from a second round of water sampling on the Dan River in the wake of the third largest coal ash spill in recent U.S. history, confirming that highly-contaminated coal ash seepage is still discharging out of the same Duke Energy ash impoundment where an estimated tens of thousands of tons of raw ash erupted into the river last week.

Laboratory analysis of the discharge (visible on this map at point “D”) confirmed that it contains multiple pollutants that are characteristic of coal ash, including the toxic heavy metals arsenic and chromium. Arsenic concentrations measured .187 mg/L, more than 18 times the human health standard and over 3 times the applicable water quality standard. These results directly contradict the information released by Duke Energy on Feb. 13, which stated "This water was from drains from the retired plant and treated domestic wastewater; it did not contain coal ash or any coal residuals."

Water pollution discharges like the one identified by Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper are prohibited by the Clean Water Act unless specifically authorized by a discharge permit, and an intentional or even negligent violation of the Act is a federal crime, punishable by imprisonment and/or criminal penalties.

Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks said, “As long as we allow Duke to continue storing toxic coal ash in massive, outdated, unlined pits along our drinking water supplies across the state, it’s only a matter of time until the next disaster.”

Image below shows coal ash in the Dan River.

 Naujoks cited three high hazard rated coal ash ponds located in the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin, which is the drinking water supply for nearly 750,000 people. The three ponds are located at the Buck Steam Station near Salisbury, NC.

All three coal ash ponds at the Buck Steam Station are on EPA’s list of 44 High Hazard Coal Ash Ponds and according to the state, they are discharging through numerous unpermitted flows, seeps and leaks, including engineered discharges from the toe-drains of its ash basin and ash settling ponds, contaminates that flow directly into High Rock Lake and the Yadkin River.

"Duke Energy is violating the federal Clean Water Act and threatening public health and safety. It is time that they comply with the law and clean up their toxic coal ash ponds,” Naujoks added.

Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper are offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who can provide new evidence leading to civil and/or criminal charges against officials from Duke Energy, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or others involved in the massive toxic coal ash spill on the Dan River. Those who can provide new information about the spill that leads to criminal and or civil charges should send evidence to to claim the reward. Waterkeeper Alliance will evaluate all evidence submitted and provide the reward as it sees fit.  

“Duke could have avoided contaminating the Dan River in North Carolina and poisoning Virginia's water supplies if it had removed its toxic ash heaps years ago after being warned by EPA,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Environmental crime is not a victimless crime. The poisoning of the Dan River is an act of theft at the very least. North Carolina’s constitution provides that the people of North Carolina own the waterway but Duke Energy has now illegally privatized it.”

Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance, said DENR has also neglected to stop illegal coal ash seepage discharges from Duke’s Riverbend Steam Station. There, toxic seepage flows into Mountain Island Lake about three miles upstream of an intake structure that supplies drinking water to over 800,000 people in the Charlotte area. “There’s no reason to think that the leaky ash pits at Riverbend aren’t going to fail like Dan River just did. If that one goes, we’re going to have a serious crisis on a scale that would dwarf even the 2008 spill in Kingston.”

Photos/video of the newly-discovered seepage discharge:

Link to Rachel Maddow story: