Dan River Coal Ash Spill

Settlement for Spill

As a result of the February 2, 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River, DEQ proposed a $2.5 million settlement against Duke Energy Carolinas. The settlement, an enforcement action called a consent order, is one of the largest ever proposed by DEQ.  Duke has agreed to undertake $2.25 million in environmental projects that benefit Virginia localities affected by the spill. The remaining $250,000 was placed in the fund DEQ uses to respond to environmental emergencies. The proposal and summary of comments was presented to the State Water Control Board in June 2015.

Draft Natural Resource Damage Assessment Plan

A natural resource damage assessment and restoration process was initiated by the natural resource trustees (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources) to address the 2014 coal ash spill at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, NC. This assessment examined potential damages to natural resources resulting from the spill.


The trustees’ Draft Dan River Coal Ash Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment Plan, released in June 2015, outlines the procedures to be used to evaluate potential injuries to natural resources and the services they provide to the public. The trustees may pursue compensation to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of the injured natural resources and their services.

DEQ River monitoring plan

DEQ has developed a long-term monitoring plan to test for potential effects of the Dan River coal ash spill on water, sediment and fish. The plan, issued in March 2014, includes these activities:

  • DEQ began monthly water and sediment sampling at six locations on the river and two stations on Kerr Lake in April 2014.
  • Fish tissue was collected from June through August 2014. Other aquatic life was tested at two stations in May and August 2014.
  • DEQ is coordinating with the Dan River Basin Association to have additional testing done at several locations. This information should be helpful in identifying the potential need for DEQ to do follow-up monitoring.

Monitoring results

DEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency collected samples of water and sediment in February 2014. Four sites, located from the Virginia/North Carolina state line to mid-way between Danville and South Boston, were sampled.The results show that no water quality standards for metals were exceeded, and none of the levels of metals found in sediment or fish tissue were above the levels of concern. 

Looking ahead

Virginia’s environmental evaluation of the Dan River following the coal ash spill in North Carolina continues to focus on potential long-term effects on water quality and aquatic life in the river. Sampling results of the treated drinking water for Virginia localities that use the Dan River have consistently met or exceeded all applicable federal and state standards, and there are no public health concerns with drinking water.

The release of coal ash into the river has been halted, and removal of ash deposits in the river is under way.  

“In Virginia, we are focusing now on the health of the Dan River over the long term,” said David K. Paylor, Director of the Department of Environmental Quality. “We intend to hold Duke Energy fully accountable. It is likely that several years of monitoring will be required, and we want to ensure that people and the environment remain protected.”

DEQ is coordinating the Virginia state agency response and has taken these actions:

  • Compiled historical monitoring data and drafted a summary of water quality conditions on the Dan River from before the spill to enable comparison with post-spill conditions.
  • Collected water and sediment samples from the North Carolina line to an area west of South Boston. No violations of Virginia’s water quality standards have been found, and sample collections are continuing.
  • Coordinated with local water treatment facilities and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to ensure the ongoing safety of public water supplies. The drinking water quality has not been impaired and remains safe.
  • Collected fish samples from the river to evaluate for metal contaminants. 
  • Coordinated with VDH on the posting of signs along the river advising limited contact with coal ash.
  • Reviewed records and current conditions at coal ash impoundments in Virginia.
  • Initiated plans for assessment of water quality, aquatic life and habitat in the river.
  • Identified sampling locations (see map).

VDH recommends that local fish consumers follow the existing advisory for mercury and PCBs (no more than two meals per month for certain fish species). Catch-and-release fishing remains safe.

Virginia’s long-term efforts will include a cooperative state and federal monitoring plan to identify impacts to bottom-dwelling organisms that form the base of the food chain in the river. The study also will identify effects on fish and possible bioaccumulation of metals in fish tissue.

Coal ash regulation

Virginia regulates coal combustion residues and impoundments under several different authorities.  The following links may be helpful in understanding this topic:

Coal Combustion By-Product Disposal (9VAC20-81-110) The Virginia Solid Waste Regulations govern the siting, design, construction, operation, and closure of landfills and covers Coal Combustion By-Products disposal facilities. 

Coal Combustion By-Product Regulation (9VAC20-85) This regulation governs the land application or other manner of beneficial reuse of Coal Combustion By-Products not addressed in the Virginia Solid Waste Management Regulations. 

Coal Combustion By-Product Exemption in Solid Waste Management Regulations (9VAC20-81-95) The solid waste regulations provide two exemptions directly dealing with the reuse of coal combustion by-products; one is for use in footprint below an impervious structure, the other is structural fill when mixed with cement-like material. 

Impounding Structure (Dam) Regulations (4VAC50-20) These regulations contain all applicability regulations for impounding structures (dams) including design and operation. 

Surface Impoundments Storing Coal Ash Regulations (9VAC25-31) These regulations are the Virginia Pollution Discharge Elimination System Regulations which cover surface impoundments of wet-storage coal ash. 

Featured Topics

Duke Energy Water Resources Fund 

Duke Energy announces plans to begin removing coal ash

Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration plan

Lessons Learned from TVA-Kingston Coal Ash Spill

Virginia Department of Health Fact Sheet

DEQ presentation to Danville City Council, March 18, 2014

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

EPA response

North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline of Events

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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