Highly Contaminated Water Still Pouring Into Public Drinking Source on Dan River
Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper have obtained the results from a second round of water sampling on the Dan River in the wake of the third largest coal ash spill in recent U.S. history. Their results confirm that highly-contaminated coal ash seepage is still pouring out of the same Duke Energy ash impoundment where an estimated tens of thousands of tons of raw ash erupted into the river last week. The newly-confirmed leak is located about a third of a mile upstream of the pipe where last week’s major spill occurred.
Laboratory analysis of the discharge (visible on this map at point “D”) confirmed that it contains multiple pollutants that are characteristic of coal ash, including the toxic heavy metals arsenic and chromium. Arsenic concentrations measured .187 mg/L, more than 18 times the human health standard and more than three times the applicable water quality standard.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Duke Energy began vacuuming ash from last week’s spill out of the river, and pumping it back into the leaking impoundment.
On Thursday, Feb. 6, Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison patrolled the spill site and noticed an unusual discharge flowing down an embankment at the southwest corner of of the plant’s coal ash impoundment.
“This area caught my attention because the rocks were stained bright orange and there was water cascading down, right into the river,” Harrison said.
“When I paddled closer, I could see that the rocks had a thick, slimy coating, an indication of iron-oxidizing bacteria that is often present where seepage is bleeding out of coal ash pits.”
Harrison added, “The discharge concerned me because I’d reviewed the discharge permit for this facility and I knew that there wasn’t supposed to be anything coming out of the ash pond right there.” His team returned to the area four more times since last Thursday to see if anyone had attempted to stop it, but the discharge was still flowing unabated each time they went.
On Feb. 11, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) denied knowledge of any ongoing leaks when questioned about the newly-discovered discharge at a public meeting in Danville, VA. The officials, however, did not ask for additional details about the location or character of the seepage. Waterkeeper Alliance says it would provide its test results to officials working on the cleanup.
Prompted by the threat of enforcement lawsuits by Waterkeeper and several other organizations, DENR filed four lawsuits against Duke Energy in 2013, alleging illegal pollution from leaking ash pits at all 14 of Duke’s coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.
With respect to the Dan River Steam Station, DENR’s Aug. 16, 2013 complaint against Duke alleges that DENR had discovered illegal seeps flowing into the Dan River from “engineered discharges from the toe drains of the ash ponds.” DENR also accused Duke of contaminating groundwater near its ash impoundment with antimony, arsenic, boron, iron, manganese, TDS and sulfate. Six months after filing the suit, DENR has taken no action to force Duke to remedy the problems.
Because DENR’s court papers fail to identify the location of the “engineered discharge” at the Dan River facility, it remains unclear whether the ongoing discharge Waterkeeper identified is the same illegal outfall that DENR identified months ago, or if it is instead another leak in the impoundment that regulators failed to notice.
Water pollution discharges like the one identified by Waterkeeper Alliance are prohibited by the Clean Water Act unless specifically authorized by a discharge permit, and an intentional or even negligent violation of the Act is a federal crime, punishable by imprisonment and/or criminal penalties.
Workers began removing coal ash from the Dan River on Wednesday. Rather than moving the spilled toxic coal ash to a safer, more secure location, Duke simply began to pump the sludge around the failed pipe from the riverbed back into the leaking ash pond from which it came. The confirmation that the same impoundment has been leaking heavily from another area raises questions as to why DENR failed to stop the discharge, or if the agency had overlooked the cascade—even as its staff responded to last week’s spill.
Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi commented, “How can Duke’s cleanup plan possibly work if regulators are turning a blind eye to an ongoing leak like this? While Duke sucks up a small amount of the ash it spilled last week, arsenic and other toxins are still pouring unabated into the Dan River just upstream. If stopping the flow of heavy metals into the Dan River isn’t part of Duke's cleanup plan, how can the Dan River possibly recover from this travesty?”
Waterkeeper Alliance and other groups have called on the U.S. EPA to take over enforcement efforts from DENR, which has been accused of withholding information about the spill, misinforming the public about contaminant levels in the river, and failing to hold Duke Energy to the same standards as other regulated entities.
Duke Energy is now saying they released 30,000 to 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of polluted coal ash water. Both Duke and DENR have repeatedly been wrong: (a) they said their coal ash lagoons were safe and stable, not true; (b) they said their stormwater pipe was reinforced concrete, not true; (c) DENR said that the arsenic in the water met human health standards when it was four times the human health levels. Whatever the actual amount, Duke Energy continues to pollute the Dan River due to its reckless way of storing coal ash. Yesterday DHHS advised people not even to touch the water or to eat fish or mussels from the river.
“This administration has allowed Duke Energy to act above the law,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks. “As long as we allow Duke to continue storing toxic coal ash in massive, outdated, unlined pits along our drinking water supplies across the state, it’s only a matter of time until the next disaster.”
Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance, said DENR has also neglected to stop illegal coal ash seepage discharges from Duke’s Riverbend Steam Station. There, toxic seepage flows into Mountain Island Lake about three miles upstream of an intake structure that supplies drinking water to more than 800,000 people in the Charlotte area. “There’s no reason to think that the leaky ash pits at Riverbend aren’t going to fail like Dan River just did. If that one goes, we’re going to have a serious crisis on a scale that would dwarf even the 2008 spill in Kingston.”
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.
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Environmental officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard are racing to clean up a mysterious oil spill that has spread to 11 miles of Delaware coastline.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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