High Hazard Coal Ash Impoundments in NC

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. The photograph above shows two coal ash impoundments where waste from coal burning is stored. Note proximity of the ash pits to both houses and the Catawba River in the upper right corner of photograph.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. The photograph above shows two coal ash impoundments where waste from coal burning is stored. Note proximity of the ash pits to both houses and the Catawba River in the upper right corner of photograph.

On July 25, 2009 SouthWings pilot Hap Endler flew with the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in North Carolina to look at the health of the Catawba River watershed, including observation of unlined coal ash pits.

Coal ash waste has been brought to public attention as a result of the disastrous December 2008 dam break at a TVA facility in TN. While clean-up efforts are underway, the task is daunting, the cost exorbitant, now estimated at $1.2 billion dollars, and the human health and environmental impacts and damage still unfolding and little understood.

Since the disaster the EPA has begun to pay more attention to this issue and is considering regulating it. As part of that evaluation, the EPA identified 44 High Hazard Coal Ash Impoundments (HHCAI) around the country, primarily evaluated based on the likelihood of human death in the event of catastrophic failure, like the TVA spill.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. Another view of the ash pits, the coal plant and proximity to the Catawba River.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. Another view of the ash pits, the coal plant and proximity to the Catawba River.

Four of EPA’s 44 HHCAIs reside along the Catawba River in Catawba and Gaston Counties. (Read more here.) Two are located on Mountain Island Lake upstream from the primary water intakes for the Charlotte, Gastonia, Mt. Holly and Belmont. According to 2005 U.S. Dept. of Energy numbers, over 200,000 tons of Coal Ash Waste is stored adjoining the Catawba River in Gaston County and 33,500 tons of coal waste is stored adjoining the Catawba River in Catawba County.

Some of the critically important public debate and education that is needed around the use of coal and management of its waste products includes air pollution, human proximity and health concerns, safety and risk management, contamination to the environment and long-term exposure effects.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. A consequence of coal burning is air pollution contributing to the haze in this photo. The powerplant is in the center of the picture and the city of Charlotte is in the background.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. A consequence of coal burning is air pollution contributing to the haze in this photo. The powerplant is in the center of the picture and the city of Charlotte is in the background.

Participating in the Catawba Riverkeeper flight were Riverkeeper David Merryman and professional photographer Jeff Cravotta of Jeff Cravotta Photography. Please contact Jeff through his website if you are interested in the photos featured in this article. David Merryman shared on his passenger report about the flight, “this flight allowed us to collect visual representation of one of the major issues along the Catawba River, coal ash waste.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. This photo illustrates the proximity of the coal fired plant to the Catawba River.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. This photo illustrates the proximity of the coal fired plant to the Catawba River.

We would not be aware of the color differentiation without the aerial perspective provided by SouthWings. Pilot Hap Endler’s ability to maneuver the plane perfectly for photographs truly helped in finding water quality violations, expected and unexpected.” Jeff Cravotta commented on his flight report, “I do not know much about SouthWings but I commend this organization for their work which involves the revelation of environmental hazards and heightening environmental awareness. This flight not only afforded me with a vantage point where I was able to clearly see the pollution flowing into the river and the close proximity of toxic coal ash laden with mercury and lead so close to the water supply of a large metropolitan area but I had the combined knowledge of Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman and pilot Hap Endler. I really learned a lot on this mission. I have shot many aerial jobs from both fixed wing and helicopter. This was my best fixed wing photo experience.”

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. This photo illustrates the proximity of the community to the coal ash pits.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. This photo illustrates the proximity of the community to the coal ash pits.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. Note water discoloration that David Merryman refers to in his quote above.

Photo credit: Jeff Cravotta Photography. Note water discoloration that David Merryman refers to in his quote above.