Floods Prevent Environmental Studies 09/20 06:42
(AP) -- Aerial photographs show widespread devastation to farms and
industrial sites in eastern North Carolina, with tell-tale trails of
rainbow-colored sheen indicating potential contamination visible on top of the
However, conditions remain so bad more than five days after Hurricane
Florence made landfall that the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality said
its inspectors have been unable to visit the hardest hit areas or collect
samples of the floodwater for lab testing. The agency's regional office in
Fayetteville had one foot of water inside, while other locations were without
"DEQ is waiting for travel conditions to improve ... before we can safely
inspect the damage reported by farmers to the hog lagoons," said Megan Thorpe,
spokeswoman for the state environmental agency. "Personally, our staff are
facing damage to their homes and those who evacuated are trying to get back.
Many staff are helping their colleagues with cleanup."
State inspectors were able to make it Tuesday to a Wilmington power plant
where a landfill breached last weekend, spilling enough coal ash to fill about
180 dump trucks. Duke Energy said Wednesday that water samples collected by its
employees and tested at the company's own lab showed "no evidence of a coal ash
impact" to nearby Sutton Lake or the Cape Fear River.
Thorpe said state environmental regulators were waiting on the results of
their own testing before determining whether there were any violations of clean
water quality rules.
Pressed Wednesday on whether any federal regulators were at work in the
flood-impacted areas, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency
referred a reporter to a news release about a regional administrator visiting
with state officials at an office in Raleigh.
"Water is still rising, flooding is widespread, and lives are still in
danger," EPA Region 4 Administrator Trey Glenn said, according to the media
release. "The government's first responsibility is to protect lives and the
health of the citizens impacted."
State officials said they have received reports that the earthen dam at one
hog lagoon in Duplin County had breached over the weekend, spilling feces and
urine. According to figures released Wednesday, four other lagoons had some
structural damage, 17 had been flooded by nearby rivers and 21 were so full
they overflowed. Large mounds of manure are also typically stored at poultry
About 3.4 million chickens and turkeys and 5,500 hogs have been killed in
flooding from Florence as rising North Carolina rivers swamped dozens of farm
buildings where the animals were being raised for market, according to state
An environmental threat is also posed by human waste as low-lying municipal
sewage plants flood. On Sunday, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority reported
that more than 5 million gallons of partially treated sewage had spilled into
the Cape Fear River after power failed at its treatment plant.
Duke Energy continued cleanup operations Wednesday following a weekend
breach at a coal ash landfill at its L.V. Sutton Power Station.
The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and replaced with a new
facility that burns natural gas. The company has been excavating millions of
tons of leftover ash from old pits there and removing the waste to a new lined
landfill constructed on the property. The gray ash left behind when coal is
burned contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.
Photos from the site provided to AP by Cape Fear River Watch, an
environmental advocacy group, show cascades of gray-colored water spilling from
at least two breaches at the landfill and flowing toward Sutton Lake, the
plant's former cooling pond which is now used for public recreation, including
fishing and boating. The lake drains into the Cape Fear River.
Despite Duke's claims of no evidence of environmental harm to Sutton Lake,
the company's own lab results show chemicals contained in coal ash were
detected in wetlands immediately adjacent to the shoreline. An accompanying map
shows the sample Duke employees tested from Sutton Lake was collected from the
opposite side of the lake.
"This shows that coal ash remains a problem in North Carolina, all the more
so because Duke Energy is still refusing to clean up millions of tons of its
coal ash from leaking pits that contaminate our lakes and rivers every day, not
just during a hurricane," said Nicholas S. Torrey, a staff attorney with the
Southern Environmental Law Center.
At a different power plant near Goldsboro, three old coal ash dumps capped
with soil were inundated by the Neuse River. Duke said they had no indication
those dumps at the H.F. Lee Power Plant were leaking ash into the river.
Staff from the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental advocacy group,
visited the site by boat on Wednesday and took photographs and collected
samples of gray-colored sludge and water they said was washing off into the
floodwaters. The group said the samples would be analyzed by a private lab to
determine whether the gray muck contained coal ash.
Duke's handling of ash waste has faced intense scrutiny since a drainage
pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden in 2014, triggering a
massive spill that coated 70 miles (110 kilometers) of the Dan River in gray
sludge. The utility later agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act
violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally
discharging pollution from ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. It
plans to close all its ash dumps by 2029.