EPA: No coal ash in Kerr Lake

May. 07, 2014 @ 07:49 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released information from updated sediment sample tests from Kerr Lake, some of which slightly exceeded human health screening levels for iron, thallium and chromium.

But the agency contends those contaminants do not indicate coal ash and “may likely be from another source,” according to the fact sheet released by the EPA on Monday regarding the Eden coal ash spill and its impact on Kerr Lake.

As of press time, the EPA had not responded to The Daily Dispatch’s question of how the agency determined those contaminants were not from coal ash.

Toxic metals — such as arsenic, selenium, thallium and mercury — are chemical constituents of coal ash, which is a by-product of burning coal for electricity.

The fact sheet also stated there have been “no exceedances in human health screening in the surface water samples collected from Kerr Reservoir for contaminants of concern from the coal ash.”

These EPA samples from the Kerr Reservoir were taken in early April. The agency has not released the actual test results.

The EPA fact sheet reported the agency started collecting sediment samples for polarized light microscopy analysis in April.

In this analytical method, samples are examined under a microscope by a trained analyst to visibly identify and count the types of material present, such as sand, clay and coal ash.

The purpose of this analysis is to identify what percentage of ash may be present in a sediment sample.

None of the 11 locations sampled from Staunton River State Park in Virginia and into the Kerr Reservoir showed indications of coal ash, according to the EPA fact sheet.

The testing from various agencies, including the Virginia and North Carolina state health departments, is in response to the coal ash spill on Feb. 2 in Eden, North Carolina, at the Dan River Steam Station, about 80 miles from Kerr Lake.

At that time, about 39,000 tons of coal ash entered the Dan River at Duke Energy’s impoundment site.

Andrew Lester, executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association, said the full impact of the spill would not be known for years because of the time it takes for the coal ash to migrate downstream and accumulate inside wildlife.

“At this point, they may be correct, but three to 10 years down the line, it may be a different story,” he said.

He said the association plans to conduct independent testing on the lake for at least three years.

Amy Adams, of the environmental justice group Appalachian Voices, said the updated sample results could be good news.

“There is still time for clean up before a huge impact is made,” said Adams, who worked for N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources for nine years as a regional supervisor for surface water protection in the Division of Water Quality. “If it hasn’t reached Kerr Lake or just barely reached Kerr Lake, we still have time to act.”


Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.