NC has 14 "high hazard" coal ash dams
1:00 pm
Tue June 30, 2009

NC has 14 "high hazard" coal ash dams

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a list of 44 coal ash storage sites that are a potential threat to surrounding communities. North Carolina has the largest number of these so-called "fly ash ponds" like the one that breached in Tennessee in December burying homes and contaminating water. WFAE's Julie Rose has more:

After the TVA dam broke near Kingston, Tennessee on Christmas Eve, the EPA called for a review of other such dams around the country. They hold the ash and toxic left-overs of coal power plants and, until now, the list of such sites was not made public.

But EPA officials say they want to prevent another Kingston-like disaster. Forty-four dams have been identified as likely to cause serious damage and death if they were to break. Twelve of them are in North Carolina, primarily in the greater Charlotte area on Lakes Norman, Wylie and Mountain Island. There are also dams near Asheville, Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

Progress Energy operates two of them. The rest are Duke Energy's and spokesman Jason Walls says they are all near existing coal power plants:

"The release of this list allows us the opportunity to share with folks that live around our plant that our ash basins are safe," says Walls. "We're confident - because of our maintenance and our monitoring and our ongoing inspections that date back to the mid-1980s - that our facilities are safe."

Walls says Duke Energy does a yearly assessment of its fly ash dams. Every five years, the North Carolina Utilities Commission requires an independent evaluation as well. Utilities Commission spokesman Roy Ericson says he's confident all of the North Carolina dams on the EPA's "high hazard" list are structurally safe.

But environmental groups hope the list will add fuel to their fight against building more coal-fired power plants. Jim Warren is with NCWARN.

"This is yet another example of how coal-fired power plants are hazardous to public well-being," says Warren. "It's a heck of a problem. And it's not going to go away but certainly having it out in front of the public is a key factor there."

The EPA says it has been to half of the 44 sites with a high hazard rating and will make the result of those assessments public when they are complete.

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