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When Predictable Disasters Happen


As I discussed when Hurricane Florence was about to strike, natural disasters are really natural forces exposing the inequalities and poor planning of human society. Thus, the example of coal ash ponds collapsing has come to pass.

Florence’s catastrophic rains have caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill to collapse at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast, Duke Energy said Saturday night.

About 2,000 cubic yards of ash were displaced at the L.V. Sutton Power Station outside of Wilmington, Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. That contaminated runoff likely flowed into the plant’s cooling pond. The company is working to determine if the weir that drains the lake was open or if the contamination made it into the Cape Fear River. The displaced ash was enough to fill 180 dump trucks or about two-thirds of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and the company has been excavating millions of tons of ash from old waste pits and removing it to safer lined landfills constructed on the property. The gray ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.

Duke has been under intense scrutiny for the handling of its coal ash 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 of the Dan River in gray sludge.

In a subsequent settlement with federal regulators, Duke agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. The company is in the process of closing all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.

Spokeswoman Megan S. Thorpe at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality said state regulators will conduct a thorough inspection of the site as soon as safely possible.

I know I have full faith in the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality….

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