Duke Energy tries to retain customers after charged with illegally pumping coal ash into rivers

Duke Energy tries to retain customers after charged with illegally pumping coal ash into rivers

Regulators said last week the firm illegally pumped 61 million gallons of contaminated water from a coal ash pit into the Cape Fear River, marking the eighth time in less than a month Duke Energy has been cited for environmental violations.

Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK), the US largest electricity company, is stepping up efforts to “regain” customer confidence following a toxic spill from a coal ash dump in North Carolina last month that forced authorities to treat the drinking water supply for Virginia, Danville and South Boston.

The incident brought to light Duke's history of polluting groundwater with its leaky, unlined coal ash dumps, as subsequent investigations by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resource (DENR), showed the company had been pumping the coal ash for months from two facilities without authorization or the proper safety measures in place to filter the contaminated water.

Taking a full-page ad in local newspapers Sunday (see below), the company said it is setting in motion actions to "ensure the safety of our ash basins and develop a plan for long-term management, including closure."

Duke Energy tries to retain customers after charged with illegally pumping coal ash into rivers

Sunday's full page ad.

Duke’s president and chief executive officer, Lynn Good, told state officials last week the firm was studying ways to move ash ponds at Riverbend and Asheville away from the lakes and rivers they border and to bury the waste in lined landfills rather than the unlined pits currently used. The company also has agreed to accelerate its effort to close the Sutton ponds down.

Duke has coal ash dumps at 14 power plants in North Carolina, all of which were cited last year for polluting groundwater.

Coal ash is the by-product of burning coal for industrial power generation and contains concentrated amounts of toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, as well as aluminum, barium, boron, and chlorine and varying amounts of radioactive uranium, thorium and potassium.

The toxins have been linked to cancer, heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, birth defects, impaired bone growth in children and behavioural problems, according to waste assessments done by the EPA.

Image: Screengrab from a News&Record report