82,000 tons of coal sludge spilling for days into NC river threatens Virginia drinking water

Five days after coal ash began leaking into the Dan River in North Carolina last weekend, Duke Energy still can't say if the mess will ever be cleaned up.

On Sunday, a security guard at the Duke Energy plant in Eden discovered that the gray sludge was leaking out of a storage pond and into the river through a hole in a storm water drainage pipe beneath the pond. Since then, up to 82,000 tons have flowed into the river.

Environmental groups have blasted Duke Energy for taking more than 24 hours to notify the public of what they say is one of the worst spills of its type in U.S. history.

A Wednesday statement from Duke Energy said that the company was "exploring multiple options to permanently and safely seal the broken stormwater pipe that has released ash into the river," but it did not say when the leak would be sealed or if the river could be cleaned.

North Carolina's environmental regulators are waiting on the results of tests to determine the toxicity of the sludge. According to The Associated Press, coal ash "is known to contain a witch's brew of toxic chemicals, including lead, arsenic, mercury and radioactive uranium."

And as time passes, the gray sludge is making its way toward the city of Danville in Virginia, which uses the river for drinking water.

"How do you clean this up?" Dan River Basin Association program manager Brian Williams told the AP. "Dredge the whole river bottom for miles? You can't clean this up. It's going to go up the food chain, from the filter feeders, to the fish, to the otters and birds and people. Everything in the ecosystem of a river is connected."

Duke Energy has claimed that the spill has "the lowest level lab instruments can accurately measure" of dangerous trace metals.

Watch this video from WGHP, broadcast Feb. 5, 2013.