Duke to repair cracked pipe at coal ash site

The pipe that needs repair is part of the drainage system that runs beneath the dam at the coal-fired Marshall Steam Station power plant near Charlotte, North Carolina

Duke Energy plans to drain contaminated wastewater from its coal ash facility near Charlotte, North Carolina, to repair a cracked pipe, according to The Associated Press. North Carolina officials approved the energy company's plans Late last week.

The pipe that needs to be repaired is part of the drainage system that runs beneath the dam at the coal-fired Marshall Steam Station power plant. It has a small hole and crack, which were identified about 6 months ago with the help of a robotic camera, North Carolina Dam Safety Engineer Steve McEvoy told the AP. The pipe, though damaged, is not in danger of failing, McEvoy stated.

Need for repairs at coal plants not uncommon
The repair is one of many that Duke plans on performing at many of its plants in the near future. It also illustrates the old age of many coal plants and coal-waste facilities in the U.S. According to The Washington Post, the average age of coal plants in the U.S. is 42 years old, and some of the oldest facilities date back to the 1940s.

Past incident raises questions of safety
A previous collapse of a metal pipe at a Duke Energy plant in Eden, North Carolina, led some people to be concerned about the strength of the current system and potentially contaminated water. The collapse caused a massive spill of coal waste into 70 miles of the Dan River. 

Duke Energy stated no water contamination has been found in Lake Normal, the lake near the Marshall Stream Station, though Susan Massengale, spokesperson for the states' Department of Natural Resources Division of Water Quality, could not verify if the agency had tested the flow rate of contamination leaking from the pipe from the station in the past 6 months, the AP reported.

Many residents and environmental agencies are worried that the repair, which requires water to be drained into Lake Norman, could bring with it contamination, NBC Charlotte reported.

"I am glad that Duke is trying to fix the obvious problems with the dam structures holding back millions of gallons of coal ash waste and other wastes, but it is unacceptable for the state to allow Duke to discharge these wastes into Lake Norman with no limits for contaminants that we know to be of concern, such as arsenic and mercury," said Rick Gaskins, executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.

State officials responded that Duke will be required to test the discharged wastewater to ensure no contaminants exceed state-imposed limits.

More information on coal-fired energy production in the U.S. can be found at PennEnergy's research area

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