‘A poisoned ball spilling a trail of filth’

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Duke Energy had reportedly pumped 61 million gallons of contaminated water into the river, according to the Charlotte News & Observer. A chastened and fearful of prosecution Department of Environment and Natural Resources immediately cited the utility. Let’s see if the citation comes with any enforcement.

It’s getting pretty easy for me to rant about Duke Energy polluting our drinking water because they keep supplying me with so much material. I was already ticked off last month when I reported that on Feb. 2, a pipe under a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy ruptured, sending 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of tainted water into the Dan River, upstream from Danville, Va.

My outrage initially started with the January spill of a storage tank at a company called Freedom Industries holding 48,000-gal. of the coal-washing chemical 4-methylcyclohexene methanol, or MCHM, ruptured right next to the Elk River, less than two miles from the intake to the water treatment plant for Charleston, W.Va. Approximately 10,000-gal. of the chemical spilled into the river. The water supply for 300,000 people was put out of commission for everything except flushing toilets.

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It’s still a problem. Hampton, Va., carpentry contractor Richard Amadon read my editorial and wrote:

“The first night after the news broke was filled with confusion, trepidation, and misinformation. When did the spill occur? What was spilled? How dangerous is MCHM? What is MCHM? Who decided that it was OK to place the water plant inlet downstream from a chemical tank farm? How did the leak occur, and why was it not contained by the containment structure in place?

“Other questions were more personal, and showed the fear we may have of the unknown. I brushed my teeth this morning, will I be OK? How badly poisoned was my morning cup of coffee? Will I have to install a new water heater, and I will need to replace all of my appliances? I’m pregnant, what is the danger to my unborn child?”

Richard wrote that even today, three months after the spill, there are people who will not drink water from the utility and that the utility has just begun replacing its carbon filtration system, an eight-week process.

But I digress. Back to Duke Energy, which was already in hot water for spilling coal ash pollutants into the Dan River. It was Groundhog Day when a pipe under a Duke Energy coal ash pond ruptured, sending tons of coal ash and millions of gallons of tainted water into the Dan River.

Duke Energy had been cozy with regulators for years but not anymore. My colleague Sandy Smith at EHS Today has reported that U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker has subpoenaed 19 employees of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources in what was called a “criminal investigation of a suspected felony.”

But, wait, it gets worse. On March 10, the Waterkeeper Alliance released video that made for some great television viewing. They shot video of themselves poking around a canal next to a Duke Energy coal ash pond and taking water and soil samples. Duke Energy called the cops and the video showed the police officer telling them that they were on private property and that they had to leave. In hindsight, Duke Energy might have been better off letting them putter around in their skiff, because after they got thrown off the property, they rented an airplane and flew over the pond. From that vantage point, they took photos of Duke Energy employees on the dike next to the pond with large pumps and hoses pumping water from the pond into the canal that feeds into the Cape Fear River. Oops.

Duke Energy had reportedly pumped 61 million gallons of contaminated water into the river, according to the Charlotte News & Observer. A chastened and fearful of prosecution Department of Environment and Natural Resources immediately cited the utility. Let’s see if the citation comes with any enforcement.

After my previous rant that poisoning our water supply is not ok, I received the following anonymous voice mail message that Duke Energy has put its coal plants on the block. An appropriate amount of skepticism is in order because this is an anonymous voice mail, but the gentleman’s tone of voice indicated that he was deadly serious. Here’s what he said:

“I prefer not to leave a message and I don’t want to be contacted. I have a relative that works for Duke Energy. I just got done reading your article on poisoning the water. You might want to know that Duke Energy is quietly trying to sell every coal-fired power plant they have in the country to either Canadian or European firms because they have not maintained the plants. I have a relative that works for them and he’s very twisted about this idea. But the problem goes all the way to the White House with rules and regulations. So you’re just tipping (sic) the iceberg. Thank you.”

Considering how much trouble Duke Energy is in because of its coal plants, selling them might be a good idea. Buyer beware.

I was gratified that an old friend and colleague wrote me: “As a nation, we must recognize the importance of preserving the quality of what little fresh water remains. When companies neglect the need for basic safety precautions, or when public servants conspire to ‘look the other way’ for financial gain while coal ash threatens groundwater sources . . . I, too, am dismayed, alarmed and fearful for what our generation will leave behind for children and grandchildren. A ruined, poisoned ball spilling a trail of filth as it rotates around the sun?

“I pray not. Yet, while we tend to important issues here, enormous threats bloom on a global scale: Fukushima's radioactive ocean plume may threaten all ocean waters, and Russia routinely conceals oil spills many, many times more substantial than the 4.9 million gallons of BP crude that spewed into our Gulf of Mexico.

“Unless the world's nations come together to help solve these threats, we won't have to worry about rogue nations with nuclear capability or the Russian dictator's next move. We'll just poison the ground we live on!”

Thank you, my friend. I could not have said it better.

Every so often I have something informative, pithy or obnoxious to say on Twitter @bobmader.

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Robert Mader

Bob Mader is the editor of CONTRACTOR magazine, Green Mechanical Contractor magazine, and Radiant Living magazine. He has been writing about plumbing, mechanical, green building and HVACR topics for...
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