Coal ash cleanup costly

April 28, 2014 

While we all can appreciate a good bargain, is the cheapest choice always the best option?

Duke Energy officials think so. Company leaders say they can save $8 billion by leaving coal ash where it sits instead of removing it from disposal sites across North Carolina to modern landfills. Officials say cleanup costs will cost customers. According to our sister newspaper The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., “a state regulator estimated the higher price tag cited Tuesday could cost North Carolina households more than $20 a month.”

According to the article, the Charlotte utility provided the financial estimate to the N.C. Environmental Review Commission at a public hearing last week to explore cleanup options for its ash pits in the wake of a February spill of 39,000 tons of coal ash sludge at Duke’s Dan River power plant.

While a drive from Lake Wylie to Eden, N.C., where the Dan River power plant is takes about 2 1/2 hours, residents here should care what happens there because the Allen Steam plant is in Belmont, N.C. It, like the Dan River plant, uses open pond pits, as do Riverbend on Mountain Island and Marshall on Lake Norman, just upstream.

“The financial disclosure ends months of speculation about the cost of shutting down the open-air pits dispersed at 14 locations statewide, all of which are percolating contaminants into underground drinking water. It sets the stage for a legal showdown over who will pay for the extensive remediation that could take several decades to complete,” the newspaper reported.

We believe the Fortune 500 company should bear the full expense of this massive environmental cleanup, not the 3.2 million North Carolina customers.

“The shareholders should pick up the cost of this because it’s been decades of irresponsible coal ash disposal,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Guilford. We agree.

The history of problems with coal ash disposal sites is not new. The company knows the risks and should be held accountable. There is a precedent. In the case of asbestos, makers were often held responsible for health implications long after the material was removed from commerce.

Coal ash toxins can lead to nervous system damage, cardiovascular issues and urinary tract cancers. Inhalation and absorption through the skin can result in lung cancer and skin cancer, respectively.

With so many health issues at stake, we can’t let the disposal of hazardous waste go unmonitored. And if coal waste can be reused, we need to encourage efforts to ensure the safety of such uses.

Where coal combustion byproducts are used for structural fill, a liner should still be required, even if the site is covered with buildings, concrete or other paving.

A possible solution, requiring strength and solubility testing, would be to mix offending material in concrete mix, replacing a part of the sand content. This could include airports, highway pavement and structures.

We must continue to be vigilant whenever there are discharges into the air and water and into the ground.

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