Officials watching for coal ash in Kerr Lake

Sample results show only trace amounts in reservoir
Apr. 18, 2014 @ 08:13 PM

A recent statement from the state’s environmental regulatory agency has fueled concerns about coal ash in Kerr Lake.

But Michael Womack, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers located at John H. Kerr Reservoir, says the results from sediment samples taken from Kerr Lake are below screening levels concerning human health.

“The sample results for sediment collected are coming back below screening levels concerning human health,” Womack said on Friday. He is operations project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On Thursday, the director of Water Resources at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources told Time Warner Cable News that trace amounts of coal ash were found at Kerr Lake.

“Basically, my understanding is that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took sediment sampling or sampling from the river all the way along to the headwaters of Kerr Lake,” Thomas Reeder said in the published report. “Anyone that’s talked to me about it, I’ve told them we’ve found trace amounts of coal ash all the way to Kerr Lake.”

Jamie Kritzer, DENR spokesman, said the department issued a press release back in February that mentioned layers of gray ash being spotted on the surface of the Dan River just before the headwaters of Kerr Lake.

“None of the tests have confirmed the presence of coal ash in Kerr Lake in any quantifiable amount,” he said Friday.

Though the samples collected by the Environmental Protection Agency and DENR have not detected coal ash, Womack said there could still be trace amounts in the lake.

“Just because it’s non-detectable for coal ash doesn’t mean there are not trace amounts of coal ash that haven’t reached the reservoir,” he said. “There is not enough coal ash in those samples for it to be detected.”

A few boaters have recently reported spotting a grayish substance resembling coal ash along the shores of Kerr Lake.

The concerns about coal ash in Kerr Lake stems from the Feb. 2 collapse of a stormwater pipe beneath the coal ash impoundment at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station in Eden.

The John H. Kerr Reservoir is roughly 80 river miles from the site of the coal ash spill in Eden.

As much as 82,000 tons of coal ash flowed into the Dan River after the pipe collapsed along with 27 million gallons of contaminated water.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.