It’s too soon to gauge the long-term impacts of the Feb. 2 coal ash spill on fish in the Dan River, said Virginia and North Carolina regulatory officials during presentations Monday afternoon.
Since the incident at Duke Energy’s old Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., occurred in the winter — when there was little biological activity by fish in the Dan River — there was no way for monitoring immediately following the incident to pick up trace-element effects in the river’s fish, said John M. Kennedy, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Ecology and Infrastructure.
The VDEQ plans to conduct long-term monitoring of fish tissue at eight locations along the Dan River over the next three to five years, June through August, Kennedy said.
Kennedy and Dianne M. Reid, water sciences section chief with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Division of Water Resources, gave brief presentations during a meeting of the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission. The meeting was held at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
“We’ll wait until [feeding activity] picks up in a warmer season of the year,” Kennedy said during an interview after the presentations.
There was little biological activity — such as foraging, bottom feeding and predators feeding — among fish in the cold months when the spill happened, Kennedy said.
Reid, during her presentation, said it was too soon to determine the spill’s impacts on fish.
The eight sites for long-term monitoring along the Dan River will include an area above Schoolfield Dam, Union Street Dam, Anglers Park, South Boston and others.
The VDEQ collected water and sediment samples on Feb. 11 — nine days after the coal ash spill that spewed 39,000 tons of the toxic brew into the Dan River — at four sites along the river, Kennedy said. The department analyzed water samples for 23 metals and those levels did not exceed Virginia water quality standards, he said during the presentation.
A preliminary review of other Virginia water quality data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed “no exceedances” of standards, Kennedy said.
Tissue from 25 fish collected Feb. 20 upstream of Schoolfield Dam were tested for 23 metals; arsenic levels were not elevated and mercury was below Virginia Department of Health’s level of concern, Kennedy said. But it’s too early to tell the impacts — if any — the coal ash spill had on trace-element/metal levels in fish, he said.
“We’re treating this [February results] as a baseline,” Kennedy said. It’s too soon for fish to take up the heavy metals, he added.
The metals have to be “liberated” from the ash and get into the eco-system to transfer to fish, Kennedy said. “The material that was spilled was largely inert,” he said.
The VDEQ will provide information from long-term monitoring to the Virginia Department of Health, which would determine whether to issue a fish-consumption advisory, Kennedy said.
The Dan River from Danville to Kerr Reservoir already has an advisory on PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls — chemicals once used in manufacturing) and mercury, advising against consuming catfish more than 32 inches long and other fish more than twice a month.
Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee.