NC officials fear 2nd pipe collapse at Duke plant

Associated PressFebruary 18, 2014 

— North Carolina officials expressed concern late Friday that a second pipe running under a Duke Energy coal ash dump might fail more than a week after a similar pipe collapsed, triggering a massive toxic spill into the Dan River.

But Duke Energy said the second pipe is not in immediate danger of collapse. Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the company’s assessment is that “no immediate action” is necessary.

The state Department of Environmental Resources said video taken inside the 36-inch-wide concrete pipe shows wide gaps between seams through which potentially contaminated water is gushing in from the dump above.

“We’re concerned about the leaks we see in the 36-inch pipe and want to prevent a second pipe failure,” said Tracy Davis, director of the state Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources.

The agency didn’t provide an estimate for how much liquid from the dump is spilling into the river. Officials have given Duke 10 days to come up with a plan to fix the leaks.

A state inspector received the video from Duke during a visit to the site Tuesday. Company officials had indicated no serious problems with the second pipe, but when the inspector viewed the video Thursday, he observed “infiltration … dripping and flowing” through leaky joints. At three points, the inspector described what he termed as a “gusher.”

Word of the new problem comes after the Waterkeeper Alliance identified seepage Thursday coming from another pipe at the site, five days after Duke claimed the contamination was contained. The environmental group said its test of the wastewater flowing into the river detected arsenic levels 18 times the standard for human exposure. Duke officials later said that leak was coming from the emergency pumping system created to remove wastewater from the ruptured dump after the initial spill.

Federal prosecutors on Monday served Duke and state officials with grand jury subpoenas demanding records as part of a federal investigation into the Feb. 2 spill.

State Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca and House Environment Committee Vice-Chairman Chuck McGrady say they will co-sponsor a bill to get rid of coal ash dumps.

The two Henderson County Republicans live near Duke’s coal-fired plant along the French Broad River south of Asheville, which has two large coal ash lagoons that tests show are contaminating groundwater.

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