Environment

In Wilmington, slope on Sutton coal ash landfill fails, plus sewage spills from city wastewater plant

Duke Energy’s Sutton plant in Wilmington. Rains from Hurricane Florence caused a slope at an on-site coal ash landfill to collapse. (File photo: Duke Energy)

This post has been updated with a statement from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Torrential rain from Hurricane Florence caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at Duke Energy’s Sutton plant in Wilmington. The utility reported about 2,000 cubic yards of material, including ash, was displaced.

For context, the average commercial dump truck holds about 10-14 cubic yards, meaning the amount of displaced material at Sutton was equivalent to 142 dump truck loads.

It’s unclear if the rains carried any coal ash beyond the landfill and into the lake — and if so, how much. The landfill, which is lined, is designed to hold 5 million tons of coal ash in three cells.

The utility notified state environmental regulators of the slope failure.

DEQ Communications Director Megan S. Thorpe issued a statement, saying the agency has been “closely monitoring all coal ash impoundments that could be vulnerable in this record-breaking event.”

State inspectors will go to the plant “as soon as it is safe to do so.”

“Once the damage is assessed,” the statement went on, “DEQ will determine the best path forward and hold the utility accountable for implementing the solution that ensures the protection of public health and the environment.”

The catastrophic storm also caused a generator to fail yesterday at Wilmington’s southside wastewater treatment plant, allowing 5.25 million gallons of sewage to bypass the system. However, according to DEQ spokeswoman Bridget Munger, the wastewater was spilled at the third step in a five-step process, “so it was not nearly as bad as a raw sewage spill.” The steps that were missed were secondary clarification and disinfection, so were very few solids in the spill.

The spill is less severe than an incident in western North Carolina last April in which 15.4 million gallons were released to Long Creek. That accident was also caused by rain.

In October 2017, heavy rain also caused a release of 4.8 million gallons to Mallard Creek in the Yadkin River basin.
 

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