Tests show possible coal ash spill not harming Cape Fear River water quality

Duke Energy downplays fears of coal ash spill in the Cape Fear River

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Duke Energy said Sunday that discharges from a cooling lake into the Cape Fear River after a dam breach are not harming water quality downstream.

Reports surfaced that coal ash could have spilled into the Cape Fear on Friday after a dam breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington.

Duke said water samples taken upstream and downstream from the Sutton plant on Friday "show little to no impact to river water quality. All results are well within the rigorous state water quality standards in place to protect the environment."

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality took samples at the Sutton plant on Saturday and its test results are expected this upcoming week.

Bill Norton, a Duke Energy spokesperson, said Friday that lightweight, hollow beads called cenospheres, which are a byproduct of coal combustion, have moved into the river after flood waters from Hurricane Florence spilled into the cooling lake.

"It's important to note that's different than fly ash or bottom ash," Norton said of the cenospheres. "It has a very different chemical makeup than those materials that are being excavated and out into our landfill right now. Cenospheres are a coal byproduct, but they're beads that are used in products like kayaks and bowling pins. They're recycled.

"We continue to do testing and if history is our guide, when we've had incidents like this in the past, there's been no long-term environmental effects or public health effects to the water supply," Norton added.

There are two coal ash basins at the site which were being excavated and closed and their dams remain stable, according to Duke Energy. Water has filled the 1971 basin and the company said it believes ash is being contained by a steel wall.

The 1984 basin has not been affected.

Members of the Cape Fear River Watch wanted to see the damage to the plant with their own eyes and traveled by boat up the river on Friday.

"We took a boat up Sutton Lake north and approached downstream," said Kemp Burdett of the Cape Fear River Watch. "As we started to head upstream, we started to see what appeared to be ash on the water in the river. As we got closer, we saw the major breach of Sutton Lake on the southern end."

Burdett is concerned for the future of the waterway.

"This ash is deposited in the ecosystem and downstream of Wilmington," said Burdett. "It will start to work up the food chain. It will be there to be on our dinner plates eventually as it moves up that food chain."

Water sample test results can be found in the PDF below:

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