Coal ash cleanup settlement announced

Special To The ONE
Staff Writer

January 2, 2019 - The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation agreed to a settlement with Duke Energy that means Duke will clean up and excavate the remaining six coal ash sites in North Carolina, including two in the Catawba Basin: the Marshall site on Lake Norman and the Allen site on Lake Wylie.
Brandon Jones, Catawba Riverkeeper at the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation said, “This settlement is a fantastic victory for the Catawba and all North Carolinians and a major step towards protecting water quality for current and future generations. This is one of, if not the largest coal ash cleanup in American history. We are proud to have been a part of this effort from the beginning.”
The Duke Energy 14-site coal-ash cleanup is the largest environmental cleanup in United States history. When the work is complete, crews will excavate over 100 million tons of coal ash and contaminated soil – enough to fill more than 30,000 Olympic sized (50m) swimming pools.

For nearly 8 years, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation – a small nonprofit organization based in Charlotte – led the charge in state and federal court to fight huge companies like Duke Energy and ensure those responsible clean up the unlined coal ash pits along the Catawba River and three of her major lakes – Mountain Island Lake, Lake Norman, and Lake Wylie.

“This agreement is the culmination of nine years of work by communities across North Carolina and puts in place the most extensive coal ash cleanup in the nation,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which represents the community groups in court seeking coal ash cleanups in North Carolina. “With the agreements and court orders governing eight other coal ash sites, we now have in place a historic cleanup of coal ash lagoons to protect North Carolina’s clean water and families from coal ash pollution. North Carolina’s communities will be safer and North Carolina’s water will be cleaner than they have been in decades.”


The Allen Steam Station site includes two coal ash ponds totaling more than 300 acres and 16.6 million tons of coal ash. According to the settlement, both ponds will be fully excavated, which means the coal ash and impacted soil will be dug out and removed, then secured in a lined storage site.

The Marshall Steam Station includes a coal ash pond and landfill totaling 400 acres and 17.4 million tons of coal ash. Duke agreed to fully excavate the site. The Marshall site also contains fill that isn’t regulated by the state’s Coal Ash Management Act; the settlement confirms that Duke Energy is still responsible for monitoring and correcting groundwater contamination in those areas.

In addition, Duke will be liable for toxins that exceed safe levels at or beyond its property boundary or at the edge of a water body like Lake Norman or Lake Wylie.

What is Coal Ash?

Coal ash is essentially the powdery substance that’s left after burning coal. It can come in several forms, and is usually mixed with water and held in giant retaining ponds near coal-burning power plants.

Why is it dangerous?

Coal ash contains toxic heavy metals including arsenic, boron, lead, mercury, selenium, and chromium, many of which are known carcinogens. If coal ash isn’t managed and stored properly, those toxic contaminants can pollute streams, lakes and rivers, ground water, drinking water and the air we breathe.

Why is it a problem in North Carolina?

There are 14 coal-fired power plants in North Carolina, all of which are operated by Duke Energy. These plants use coal to heat water, then convert the resulting steam into electricity. After the coal is burned, coal ash is left behind, and for decades, it was stored in open, unlined water pits. The toxic chemicals in the coal ash can seep into the groundwater and spill into our lakes and rivers.

Information provided by Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and Southern Environmental Law Center