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Environment group says public 'mislead' to think Dan River is clean

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Waterkeeper Alliance says photos show coal ash is still present in the Dan River. (Waterkeeper Alliance) Waterkeeper Alliance says photos show coal ash is still present in the Dan River. (Waterkeeper Alliance)

An environment group provided photos Friday that it says show deposits of coal ash still in the Dan River despite claims by the Environmental Protection Agency that Duke Energy had completed clean-up of the waterway.

The EPA's on-scene coordinator, Myles Bartos, said Thursday that Duke had dredged up about 2,500 tons of the estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash that spewed into the Dan River after a drainage pipe collapsed Feb. 2.

Bartos said the cleanup is considered complete after recent testing of both the river water and bottom sediment has shown concentrations of toxic metals below federal limits and close to what was likely present before the spill.

"Really, the threat is not the coal ash; it's what in the coal ash," he said. "It's the metal that's in the coal ash. The thing that we're really concerned about is the concentration of metals."

He added, "The systems did what they were supposed to -- take particulate out of the river water."

Waterkeeper Alliance, however, contends that large deposits of coal ash remain at the bottom of the river and that Thursday's announcement "threatens to mislead the public into thinking the danger has passed."

"This arrogant announcement from Duke Energy is the ultimate insult to the people North Carolina and Virginia whose river has been devastated by the company's toxic ash spill," Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison said in a news release Friday. "Worse yet, Duke doesn't even acknowledge the fact that there's still a public health advisory declaring that the river is not safe to fish and swim in."

Bartos said Thursday that if more large deposits of contamination are later discovered, Duke will be required to remove them.

The North Carolina General Assembly has been working on a bill designed to clean up coal ash ponds at Duke Energy power plants in the state. On Monday, the Senate unanimously voted to send competing legislation from both chambers to a conference committee to forge a compromise.

Both versions of the legislation require all pits be closed in 15 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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