Duke Energy was warned about
pipe before huge coal ash spill
RALEIGH, N.C. — Records subpoenaed by federal prosecutors show engineers working for Duke Energy warned the firm nearly 30 years before a massive coal ash spill that a storm water pipe running under an ash dump was made of corrugated metal and needed to be monitored for leaks.
That pipe at a North Carolina dump collapsed in February, triggering a spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic gray sludge. Following the disaster, Duke officials said the company didn’t know that an underground section of the pipe was made out of metal, believing instead that it had been fully constructed of more-durable reinforced concrete. Duke spokesman Dave Scanzoni declined to comment Thursday about the documents or whether the company implemented the monitoring recommended by its engineers.
The 28-year-old engineering report was among documents subpoenaed last week from the N.C. Utilities Commission by the U.S. Attorney in Raleigh as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the spill. The Associated Press filed a public records request with the state agency, which was responsible for regulating Duke’s 33 coal ash pits in North Carolina up until 2010.
Starting in the mid-1970s, the commission mandated Duke to submit independent engineering studies every five years affirming the safety of the huge earthen dikes holding back millions of tons of ash and contaminated water from nearby rivers and lakes. Coal ash is the byproduct left behind when coal is burned to generate energy. It contains numerous toxic substances, including arsenic, selenium, chromium, beryllium, thallium, mercury, cadmium and lead.
Duke hired Law Engineering Testing Co. to perform the required inspections at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden. In its 1986 report, the Charlotte firm noted part of the pipe was made of metal.
In the days after the Feb. 2 spill, Duke issued public statements expressing surprise the pipe wasn’t made of corrosion-resistant concrete.