Watchdogs Say Hurricane Matthew Flooded a Duke Power Plant, Which Spewed Toxic Coal Ash into the Neuse River
Duke Energy has said only a small amount of ash leaked out. The advocates aren’t buying it.
By Ken Fine

For a moment, with the help of an October breeze, rays of sunlight dance across the endless wall of spruces and pines that guards the Neuse River from the wildlife stirring beyond the riverbank — revealing, in all of its burnt orange, maroon, and yellow glory, the dawn of an eastern North Carolina fall.  A blue jay, having taken notice of the motorboat making its way toward the H.F. Lee Power Plant, decides to give the man behind the wheel a run for his money.  Downstream, a fish jumps out of the water.

A few hundred yards from this idyllic scene, however, poison lurks — arsenic and cancer-causing heavy metals that have, yet again, been documented by environmentalists who, just days ago, took water samples that sounded alarm bells.  And when the vessel slows near the bank that conceals 170 acres of inactive Duke Energy coal ash ponds and the active pond not too far down the river, the toxins reveal themselves.

Autumn seems to disappear.  The trees resemble a winter landscape, one you might expect to see the morning after a heavy snow.  The colors that left you breathless upstream are blanketed in a thick off-white powder — one so toxic that two men who have made protecting the Neuse their respective life’s work warn you against touching.

It’s been more than two years since a catastrophic coal ash spill into the Dan River led to three Duke Energy subsidiaries pleading guilty to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act.  The company was fined $68 million, ordered to pay another $24 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and told to give $10 million to a wetlands mitigation bank to offset the long-term environmental impact of the coal ash basins.

But much of Duke’s 108 million tons of ash, currently housed in pits ordered closed and excavated, remained as of a few weeks ago, as the court-ordered cleanup moves at a crawl.  Then, the unthinkable happened.  Hurricane Matthew flooded the H.F. Lee pits in Goldsboro, polluting the Neuse and, as a result of an unprecedented rise in the river, caking with poison trees that have stood longer than any person currently inhabiting the earth.

“I mean, look up.  You’re talking a good eight feet,” says Pete Harrison, an attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a watchdog group that uncovered toxic seepage from the H.F. Lee ponds in 2014.  “[Duke] said it’s not coal ash, it’s cenospheres.  That’s like saying, ‘That’s not a dog, it’s a Labrador.’”

While the group contends the chalky substance caking the trees is, in fact, coal ash, cenospheres — a byproduct of coal combustion — are bad enough; if inhaled, they can cause respiratory damage.

Photographic and video documentation of the spill site provided by the alliance tells a story beyond the one in which a fall landscape was converted into a Tim Burton-esque winter wonderland.  But proof of a one-inch-thick layer of coal ash choking the water’s surface was dismissed by Duke officials, who accused the alliance of using scare tactics to inflame the public.

“The state team that inspected the facility determined that the amount of material that was displaced would not even fill the bed of an average pickup truck,” according to a statement released by Duke.

Harrison doesn’t buy the company’s denial.  “You’re talking about a million tons of coal ash” in the inactive ponds submerged by the floodwaters, he notes.  And what the alliance found on the river’s surface doesn’t include the ash in the trees or toxins that likely have sunk from view.

“It’s heavy metals.  They are carcinogens,” says Upper Neuse riverkeeper Matthew Starr.  “The level of arsenic in the groundwater monitoring well on this site is the highest of any of their coal ash sites around the state.  It’s sixty times the allowable limit of arsenic in that groundwater.  Coal ash is heavily toxic.  That’s why they are being required to remove the coal ash at eight of their facilities.   That’s why they pled guilty during a federal investigation.”

He lays the blame for this environmental disaster squarely on Duke.   “The pits are just not in the right place, and this ash is in unlined pits on the bank of rivers,” he says.  “The H.F. Lee pits are in the floodway, in the flood zone.  We saw it flood in '99, so it’s just not a good place to store your coal ash.  And the fix is in on this.  They are going to have to fully excavate this coal ash and get it away from surface water in a lined facility.  I don’t want to undermine the sheer magnitude of the amount of coal ash that’s in our state, but they can’t do it fast enough.  The sooner the better.”

The McCrory administration has been notably friendly to Duke, a company that has, through its subsidiaries, donated $330,000 to the Republican Governors Association in this election cycle alone.  (The RGA spent $5 million to help elect Governor McCrory four years ago and has spent millions more so far this year.)  McCrory, of course, was a Duke executive for nearly three decades before taking up residence in the Executive Mansion.

After the 2014 Dan River spill, McCrory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now the Department of Environmental Quality) fined Duke $25 million for “daily penalties dating back to 2012 for pollution violations."  Later, though, it reduced that figure to $6.6 million, a move that outraged environmentalists.  And even after Duke pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act, Harrison points out, the administration had its back: "The state’s attorney objected,” Harrison says.  “He stood up in the courtroom after Duke admitted they had committed a crime and objected.”

More recently, in August, state epidemiologist Megan Davies resigned because, in her view, the McCrory administration “deliberately” lied about how standards were drafted to test private wells near Duke’s power plants.  Davies, in a sworn deposition, said state officials pressured scientists to relax testing for the carcinogenic hexavalent chromium.  At the time, McCrory’s office denied involvement.  And the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement vowing that “throughout this process, we’ve provided full information to homeowners about the safety of their drinking water and have taken appropriate steps to reassure citizens who have been unduly alarmed.”

In sworn testimony, however, state toxicologist Kenneth Rudo said this was a lie.  He claimed that the DEQ asked that language be added to the letter sent to homeowners saying the water met federal standards.  Here’s the rub: that was only true because the U.S. has no standard for hexavalent chromium.

McCrory has contended ever since that he and his administration had nothing to do with it.  But last week saw the release of yet another deposition — this one, from DHHS communications director Kendra Gerlach, who testified that the language came from “the Capitol.”

“I received a fax with a sentence to be included,” Gerlach said during the deposition.  “It came from the communications office, but I don’t know the individual.”

It’s likely that somewhere along the Neuse, at this very moment, Harrison and Starr are in a boat, racing blue jays down the river until they reach the ash-covered banks and trees that guard the H.F Lee plant’s inactive coal ash ponds from public scrutiny.  But continuing to test the water for toxicity — and releasing their findings to media outlets — is the only way, they say, to keep pressure on Duke officials who have not lived up to their pledge to excavate the ash.

“It’s a public waterway.  The public deserves to know what’s going on,” Starr says.  “I want our water to be clean.  I want it to be fishable, swimmable, and drinkable for me, for you, for your children, for the farmers and their children.  I want the river to be clean for everyone.”

And he wants the legislature to put into place regulations to protect rivers like the Neuse against industrial and agricultural waste.  “The longer it takes to either put back commonsense regulations on the books or to keep them on the books, the more polluted our water becomes — the more expensive and harder it becomes to get it back to a healthy place,” he says.

Make no mistake, he adds.  This is not simply an eastern North Carolina problem.  It affects every man, woman, and child in the state.

“This should matter to all North Carolinians because our rivers belong to all of us and it’s our legacy,” he says.  “The rivers will be here long after we are gone, so it’s imperative that we protect them for our children and our children’s children.  If we can’t hold industry accountable, it creates a very slippery slope.”

McCrory & Duke Energy covering up coal ash pollution?  I’m shocked, shocked, I say.


Long-term exposure to air pollution linked to high blood pressure

Long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to a greater incidence of high blood pressure, according to the largest study to investigate the effects of both air pollution and traffic noise by following over 41,000 people in five different countries for five to nine years.

The study, which is published today (Tuesday) in the European Heart Journal [1], found that among adults, up to one extra person per 100 people of the same age group living in the most polluted areas of cities would develop high blood pressure (hypertension) compared to those living in the less polluted areas. This risk is similar to the effect of being overweight with a body mass index (BMI) between 25-30 compared to people with normal weight (BMI 18.5-25). High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for premature illness and death.

This study is one of the first to investigate both air pollution and traffic noise simultaneously and it found that traffic noise is associated with an increase in cases of hypertension as well. The way the study was conducted enabled the researchers to estimate the risk that was linked to air pollution and the risk linked to noise separately. The association of air pollution with hypertension remained even when exposure to traffic noise was considered in the analysis. The researchers say this is an important finding because there are differing ways of reducing air pollution and noise.

A total of 41,072 people living in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Spain participated in the study, which was part of the “European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects” (ESCAPE) project that is investigating long-term effects of exposure to air pollution on human health in Europe. Information on blood pressure was gathered when the participants joined the study and during a follow-up examination in later years. None had hypertension when they joined the study, but during the follow-up period 6,207 people (15%) reported that they developed hypertension or started to take blood pressure-lowering medications.

Between 2008 and 2011, the researchers measured air pollution during three separate two-week periods (to allow for seasonal effects). They used filters to capture information on concentrations of polluting particles known as “particulate matter” (PM) of different sizes: PM10 (particles less than or equal to 10 microns [2] in diameter), PM2.5 (less than or equal to 2.5 microns), PMcoarse (PM10 minus PM2.5) and PM2.5 absorbance (a measurement of soot particles). These measurements were taken at 20 sites in each of the areas being studied, and measurements of nitrogen oxides were measured at 40 different sites in each area. Traffic density was assessed outside the homes of the participants and traffic noise was modelled according to the EU Directive on environmental noise.

The researchers found that for every five micrograms [3] per cubic metre (5 μg/m3) of PM2.5, the risk of hypertension increased by a fifth (22%) in people living in the most polluted areas compared to those in the least polluted areas. Higher soot concentrations also increased the risk.

For exposure to chronic traffic noise, the researchers found that people living in noisy streets, where there were average night time noise levels of 50 decibels, had a six percent increased risk of developing hypertension compared to those living on quieter streets where average noise levels were 40 decibels during the night.

Professor Barbara Hoffmann, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the Centre for Health and Society at Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf, Germany, who led the analysis, said: “Our findings show that long-term exposure to particulate air pollution is associated with a higher incidence of self-reported hypertension and with intake of anti-hypertensive medication. As virtually everybody is exposed to air pollution for all of their lives, this leads to a high number of hypertension cases, posing a great burden on the individual and on society.

"Exposure to traffic noise shares many of the same sources with air pollution and so has the potential to confound the estimates of the adverse effects of pollution on human health. However, this study controlled for traffic noise exposure and found that the associations of air pollution with hypertension did not vanish. This is important because preventive measures for air pollution and noise differ.

"One very important aspect is that these associations can be seen in people living well below current European air pollution standards. This means, the current legislation does not protect the European population adequately from adverse effects of air pollution. Given the ubiquitous presence of air pollution and the importance of hypertension as the most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, these results have important public health consequences and call for more stringent air quality regulations.”

The study found there were higher average levels of pollution in the central and southern European study areas - Germany and Spain - than in the Scandinavian areas - Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Exposure to traffic noise and traffic load was highest in the study areas of Sweden and Spain.

The researchers say that it is possible that air pollution and noise affect different, or not completely overlapping, pathways involved in disturbances in the way the body normally functions. Possible biological mechanisms for the adverse effect of air pollution on the functioning of the heart and blood vessels include local and systemic inflammation, oxidative stress (a build-up of damaging molecules in the body), and an imbalance in correct functioning of the nervous system. Noise is thought to affect the functioning of both the nervous and hormonal systems.


London’s air is now being monitored by these pigeons

For many city-dwellers, pigeons have a reputation as repugnant creatures — “rats with wings,” if you will — but in London, a handful of them are doing their part to tackle the city’s air pollution levels. Birds equipped with tiny pollution sensor backpacks and GPS devices took off on a three-day flight over the U.K. capital on Monday — and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time.

Follow @the-future-now

A water wheel in Baltimore has removed over 313 tons of trash from the Inner Harbor. In just 18 months,‘Mr Trash Wheel’ successfully cleaned more than 6 million cigarette butts, 200,000 plastic bottles, 255,000 Styrofoam containers, 173,000 chip bags, and 4,000 glass bottles out of the city’s notoriously polluted river.

Mr. Trash Wheel has a lot of work to do.


Mr. Trash Wheel also has a Twitter account.

And a sense of humor.

And a pretty nice view…

… thanks to himself.

Source Source 2


How This Town Produces No Trash

In 2003, the local government in Kamikatsu, Japan decided to require that all residents comply with a new, rigorous recycling program - perhaps the most rigorous in the world.

Since then, the town composts, recycles, or reuses 80% of its garbage. It may not technically be 100% zero waste, as the remaining 20% goes into the landfill, but it’s a remarkable achievement for an entire community, in such a short amount of time. The impacts have been positive - cutting costs for the community drastically, as well as improving the conditions of the lush and beautiful environment that surrounds the town in Southeast Japan.

Read more:


When I was working on Before I Grow Up, my original intention was for it to be an environmental piece but the composition didn’t work out so I redrew it in this version.

Months ago I was walking down the street after it had just rained and saw the reflection of the city in the puddles. The way it glimmered looked like fresh paint and made me wonder what it would be like to repaint the reflection of a city. What would I change? What would the future generations wish we had changed?

In other news, I’ll be at Fanime this May 22-25 in the San Jose Convention Center. As usual, I’ll be in the Artist Alley (table 623) with prints :) I hope to see you there!

let’s discuss something that i haven’t seen much around tumblr lately.

i suppose those who don’t live nearby the ocean don’t recognize the issue of ocean pollution and the lives it has an effect on (including ours). underneath our oceans, which covers the majority of our planet, is a huge problem. so, of course, i am here to educate you with some facts you may not have known.

  • 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost in our oceans every single year, which combined, weighs more than the Titanic. [x]
  • many of the plastics used in fishing gear are very durable. some are expected to last in our oceans for 600 years. [x]
  • 136,000 sea mammals become entangled and trapped in nets and lines every year, and that’s not including fish. being trapped in the nets for a long period of time can cause the sea mammals to drown, or unable to find food. they can also become entangled in these nets, and accidentally choke, cut, or injure themselves. [x]
  • plastic is the most common element found in the ocean and is often confused as food by marine animals. so many animals are dying due to choking, intestinal blockage, and starvation. it’s also very harmful to our environment as it does not break down easily. [x]
  • plastic debris can absorb toxic chemicals from ocean pollution, therefore poisoning whatever eats it. In fact, plastic pollution is one of the most serious threats to the ocean. plastic does not degrade; instead, it breaks down into progressively smaller pieces, but never disappears. they then attract more debris.  it poses a significant health threat to the various sea creatures, and to the entire marine ecosystem. overall, plastic is the number one source of pollution in the ocean. [x]
  • small animals at the bottom of food chain absorb the chemicals as part of their food. these small animals are then eaten by larger animals that again increases the concentration of chemicals. animals at the top of hierarchy of food chain have contamination levels millions times higher than the water in which they live. [x]
  • oil and chemicals from local industries can leak and seep through the soil and eventually enter ocean currents.
  • there are more than 400 known dead zones worldwide, where there are low oxygen concentrations due to no life in that area. this is usually because of pollution.
  • at Puget Sound in Washington, a dead gray whale was washed up on the shore. it had been in good health, but inside of it’s body was about 20 plastic bags, surgical gloves, plastic pieces, a pair of sweat pants, a golf ball, and other things we discard into our oceans. this has happened on several occasions. [x]

how it affects us:

honestly, after reading the facts above, and you still need a reason to care, then continue reading.

  • people get contaminated easily by eating contaminated seafood that can cause serious health problems, from cancer to damage to immune system.
  • pollution also has huge costs for taxpayers and local governments that must clean this trash off of beaches and streets to protect public health. the national resources defense council analyzed a survey of 95 California communities and found their total reported annual costs for preventing litter from becoming pollution is $428 million per year. [x]
  • um???? unclean water, obviously??

how to help:

these poor creatures can’t fend for themselves, so we have to try and be their voice. together we can clean our oceans and help the sea mammals and fish who are affected by pollution.

To help save marine life, a craft beer company developed edible 6-pack rings. Florida’s Saltwater Brewery wanted to help protect the ocean from plastic pollution, so they created the rings from beer byproducts and made them completely safe for both humans and animals to eat. Source


Ethiopian tribes transform trash into body ornaments

The lower valley of the Omo Valley is just one of the sets most important paleontological sites in Africa declared a World Heritage Site in 1980. The Omo Valley is home to many tribes, however, the French photographer Eric Lafforgue the author of this impressive photographic record spent more time with Bana, Dassanech and Mursi.

Unfortunately, modern civilization lurks dangerously slow, Omo Valley and the advance of Western technology is not far behind. With the completion of a hydroelectric dam downstream, many tribes lost their ancestral lands and will be forced to resettle in modern environments, the landscape will be completely overhauled and will become very difficult resignifying all.


Artist Turns Trash Into Animals To Remind Us About Pollution

To spread his message about endless waste production, Portuguese street artist Bordalo II (Artur Bordalo) creates stunning animal sculptures. However, unlike most artists, Bordalo doesn’t buy his material - he scavenges it. He seeks to portray nature (animals) with the materials that threaten it.

Bored Panda has already written about Bordalo here and here but it’s clear that the artist isn’t going to stop his work anytime soon. While he started working in Portugal, now he is going global. His latest journeys feature stops in Estonia and the USA. He’s bold, he’s determined, and he’s consistent - let’s hope that Bordalo will stay this way and continue his fight.

More info: | Facebook | Instagram (h/t: colossal)

Thinking of Releasing Balloons and Lanterns? Think Twice!

Thousands of balloons or lit lanterns released into the sky: we have all seen it at least one, and it’s a very mesmerizing sight. People release balloons for various occasions: weddings, birthdays, memorials, graduations, charity events…Unfortunately, these balloons and lanterns have to come back down to Earth at some point, and end up creating an environmental disaster.

Balloons usually slowly deflate overtime, and end up getting stuck on trees, bushes, or floating in the middle of the oceans. They also take years to break down, as it is with many other forms of plastic. Latex balloons are falsely-marketed as biodegradable, and can take years to break down. Once in the air, free-flying balloons and lanterns can travel as far as 1,300 miles away from its release site. 

Many terrestrial and marine species, such as turtles, dolphins, or birds have been hurt or killed by balloons. If ingested, a balloon will block the digestive tract of the animal, thus letting them starve to death. Other animals may become entangled in the ribbon or the ballon, impeding their movements or causing them to choke.

(Rusty Blackbird found dead due to entanglement in balloon ribbon. Photo: David E. Gurniewicz)

Sea turtles are some of the most at-risk animals, as deflated balloons floating in the sea looks dangerously similar to their favorite food: jellyfishes.

(A sea turtle entangled in ribbons. Photo by FWC)

(A sea turtle that appears to have ingested a balloon. Photo by L. Byrd – Sea Turtle Hospital, Mote Marine Laboratory)

A few US states and cities have anti-balloon laws:  Ocean City and Baltimore in Maryland, Louisville in Kentucky, Huntsville in Alabama, and the entire states of California, Connecticut, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Virginia. Plymouth in the UK, and New South Wales and Sunshine Coast-Queensland in Australia also have laws in place.

The thing is, balloon pollution is completely avoidable. Just don’t do it! Is your joy and wonder of letting a balloon go really worth the death and pain of other living organisms? There are plenty of alternatives to releasing plastic into the sky. And if you were to stumble upon a balloon on the beach or while out on a boat, please make sure you pick it up.

Sunscreen PSA

(Be aware that this PSA applies to all bodies of water, even man made pools, as the chemicals will still be carried into the ocean.)

It’s well known fact that the ocean is in critical danger from pollution. We are in the middle of a mass extinction event that is being severely advanced by human activity. The ocean drives the Earth’s life and weather. If it fails, we are doomed.

As of today, over 90% of the Great Barrier Reef is dead.




What can we possibly do to help?
Switch to a reef safe sunscreen. Every little thing you do to take the pressure off of reefs will help in their recovery and preservation.

Sunscreen isn’t reef safe? Huh?
The main ingredient in a vast majority of sunscreen brands is something called oxybenzone along with a slew of other chemicals. Oxybenzone and the like is toxic to coral and damaging to fish and crustaceans. Even some “natural” ingredients such as mineral oil are deadly, as it biodegrades very slowly and is harmful to all sea life. It causes the corals to bleach themselves, a process in which the symbiotic algae is ejected from the coral. Coral can sometimes survive a bleaching event but with other pollutants and high heat, they almost never do.

That’s awful! But if it’s in all sunscreen, how can I possibly be safe in the sun and save the reefs?
That’s easy! Start using a “reef safe” sunscreen! These sunscreens contain only zinc or titanium oxide as the active ingredient, a powerful UVB and UVA blocker that is completely reef safe! It’s also great for those with sensitive skin.

Awesome! Where can I find reef safe sunscreen?
You can find reef safe sunscreen in dive shops and most stores that carry sunscreen. Just make sure the only active ingredients are “zinc oxide” or “titanium oxide”. Avoid oxybenzone and mineral oil at all cost! Online shops such as amazon also have dozens of excellent reef safe sunscreens.

Do you have any recommendations?
There are dozens of reef safe brands, so it’s up to you to decide depending on price and scent/unscented. I personally like Stream2Sea, Badger, Biodegradable Reef Safe by Tropical Seas, and Coral Safe.

Is tanning oil okay?
Unfortunately not! Tanning oil causes the same kind of oil damage as an oil spill. In small doses it’s not going to do much but keep in mind that millions if not billions of beach-goers deposit tanning oil into the ocean whenever they swim. It’s best to wash off any tanning oil before entering the ocean to swim. Hit the showers!

Why should I even care that my sunscreen isn’t reef safe?
One earth, one ocean. If the oceans fail, if the biodiversity plummets, if the reefs die, the water turns to toxic sludge, then we are all doomed. We lose a source of food. We lose a source of capital. We lose ways of life. We lose cultures. We will lose the Earth. If the oceans go, humanity will soon follow.

Don’t let the next generation grow up with stories of “….back when the reefs still existed”