New Coal Ash Leaks Found at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant
Back in mid-November, two environmental groups—Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper—spotted a gusher of orange goop below the normal waterline of the Yadkin River, pouring from the unlined coal ash impoundments at Duke Energy's Buck Station in central North Carolina, located next to the river. Naturally they were curious to know what toxins were flowing into their waterway this time, so they had the stuff tested.
Today the two groups, along with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing them in their ongoing battle over unsafe coal ash storage and pollution at the now-closed Buck Station facility, revealed that the testing showed high levels of arsenic, lead and selenium, along with barium, cadmium, manganese and chromium, all at levels exceeding safe standards for human health. It found known or suspected carcinogens like cadmium at eight times the level allowed for groundwater and surface water. It found arsenic at three times the legal limit and barium at 6,000 times the level deemed safe for human health. These chemicals are routinely found in coal ash.
“This new evidence confirms the extent and magnitude of the coal ash pollution leaking into the Yadkin River,” said John Suttles, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The volume and level of pollution from Duke’s leaky coal ash lagoons will require more than a band-aid solution to protect the river and nearby communities.”
The leakage was only spotted because the Yadkin River's water level was lowered to 14 feet less than normal to accommodate a state Department of Transportation project. At normal levels, the flow of coal ash into the river is hidden from view. That suggested to the Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper observers that there may be even more contamination lurking out of sight.
“It was deeply unsettling to find that known coal ash contaminants have been leaking directly into the Yadkin river below the waterline for an undetermined period of time,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott. “We hope that Duke Energy will take these new leaks as evidence that the only way to protect the Yadkin River from further contamination is to move the ash from Buck to safe, lined storage.”
“Riverkeepers across North Carolina have found dozens of toxic leaks from Duke’s coal ash ponds that you can actually see flowing right out of the impoundment walls and into nearby rivers and streams,” said Pete Harrison, an attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We’ve also been concerned that the contaminated ground water might be leaking into the rivers below the water’s surface, where nobody can see it. These latest tests don’t just confirm our fears, they show that the toxic loading into the water is actually far worse than we’d imagined.”
Although Duke Energy retired its coal-fired units at the Buck Power Station in April 2013, there is still coal ash stored on site. Duke doesn't appear concerned or feel urgency about taking action, since it has neither announced a closure timetable for the impoundments nor publicly acknowledged any leakage from the coal ash ponds.
A Duke Energy spokeswoman pooh-poohed the environmental groups' claims saying the river was well-protected, and telling ThinkProgress, “By the way, the orange color is often caused by iron bacteria, a naturally-occurring and non-harmful bacteria that occur commonly in this area because of iron-rich soils.”
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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