The 47-year-old coal ash pond is separated from the Cape Fear River by Sutton Lake, a public fishing lake used as a source of water to cool a coal-burning power plant that was shut down in 2013.
Charlotte-based Duke Energy also said Friday that the flooding forced it to shut down its 625-megawatt natural gas power plant at the L.V. Sutton plant in Wilmington.
Gray water containing coal ash flows from a ruptured landfill at the L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington, N.C., and flows toward Sutton Lake, near the Cape Fear River on September 16, 2018.
Sheehan said the company believes that the coal ash has remained at the bottom of the ash basin, saying there is no visible coal ash in Sutton Lake.
Gray material that the company characterized as "coal combustion byproducts" could be seen floating in both the lake and river Friday.
Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Trey Glenn said Friday his staff was monitoring the situation at Sutton from the state Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, about 150 miles northwest of the Sutton plant.
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Initial fix plans As soon as the river stops flowing over the north end of the cooling lake dam and work conditions are safe, teams will begin repairs to stop water exiting the south side of the lake.
Earthworks around the lagoons holding hog farm waste across the state have also been compromised by floodwaters.
At a different power plant near Goldsboro, three old coal-ash dumps capped with soil were inundated by the Neuse River.
"River flooding has also impacted one of two inactive ash basins at the facility", the statement said.
The ash left over when coal is burned to generate electricity coal ash contains an array of components, including mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic heavy metals.
Duke estimated that the storm had washed away more than 2,000 cubic yards of coal waste - enough to fill more than 150 dump trucks. The site has received more than 30 inches of rainfall as a result of former Hurricane Florence, with the Cape Fear River expected to crest on September 22.
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North Carolina's top environmental regulator said the possible environmental harm isn't yet known.
"What we know is the Cape Fear River has spilled into the Sutton Lake", Michael Regan, director of the NC Department of Environmental Quality, said at Gov. Roy Cooper's press briefing Friday morning. "We plan to conduct flyovers.to see if we can ascertain that". Initial test results clearly demonstrate that the presence of coal ash constituents decreased as the water made its way to Sutton Lake.
Those results, provided to the AP, did detect chemicals that are present in coal ash in wetlands immediately adjacent to the shoreline. She said the company was in touch with local emergency management officials, but the high water levels meant "if the berm were to break there would be very minimal impact down river". Duke said they had no indication those dumps at the H.F. Lee Power Plant were leaking ash into the river.
In this September 19, 2018, photo released by Cape Fear River Watch, heavy rains from Hurricane Florence erode and breach a coal ash landfill at the L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington, N.C. The landfill under construction at the site ruptured over the weekend, spilling enough material to fill 180 dump trucks.
Sheehan says Duke can't rule out that ash might be escaping and flowing into the river. The utility later agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.
Workers were busy digging up one small coal ash spill on the side of the landfill opposite the lake Thursday as Duke employees towed a pontoon boat and a fan boat to the lake to continue examining water quality.
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"Keep in mind, Duke sent their samples to their in-house lab", said Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper.