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Inspections show warning signs of leaks at Dan River site

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

WNCN Investigates looked at inspections of the Dan River Steam Station after 82,000 tons of coal ashes mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water escaped leaky drainage pipe running under a 27-acre waste pond collapsed Feb. 2. 

In 2006, Mactec, an independent contractor, inspected the waste pond and found "potentially serious seepage." Duke Energy was told to watch its underground pipes for leaks, according to documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2009, the EPA inspected the same site. The EPA found areas of concern and told Duke Energy to routinely check underground pipes for leaks, according to the EPA. 

In 2013, the state of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against Duke Energy that said seepage from the pond was contaminating groundwater. 

The EPA sent a letter to Duke Energy in 2009 asking the company to list what was being stored at the Dan River site. Along with coal ash, the list included things like chemical cleaning waste, floor and laboratory drains and equipment cleaning drains. 

Paul Newton, president for the company's North Carolina operations, made the apology Friday as he visited with residents in the affected towns of Eden, N.C., and Danville, Va. The company says it is developing a long-term clean-up plan for the river in consultation with state and federal environmental regulators. 

"We apologize and will use all available resources to take care of the river," Newton said. "We will do the right thing for the river and surrounding communities. We are accountable." 

The company said engineers at its Dan River Steam Station have designed a containment system that is capturing nearly all of the toxic runoff and pumping it back into a storage basin. However, the company said it cannot yet declare the spill fully contained. 

State environmental officials released test results from the river this week that showed readings for arsenic, lead and other toxic contaminates linked to coal ash, but said they were within safety limits for both people and fish. However, state regulators had taken those samples two miles downstream from the plant, rather than closer to the spill site where two environmental groups reported readings far exceeding safety standards. 

Officials 20 miles downstream in Danville say they are successfully filtering arsenic, lead and other toxins from the drinking water supplied to the city's 43,000 residents. 

Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and other deadly chemicals that will negatively affect the health of fish and other animals.

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Jonathan Rodriguez

Jonathan Rodriguez is an investigative reporter and member of the WNCN Investigates team. His storytelling specialty is connecting the dots to get to the truth, with a goal of delivering results for our community. If you have something you’d like WNCN to investigate, contact Jonathan.

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