On Friday, Duke Energy shut down a power plant near Wilmington after a dam breach between 100 and 200 feet wide, at the south end of Sutton Lake, allowed floodwaters to swamp two basins containing huge stockpiles of arsenic-laced ash.
Duke’s L.V. Sutton facility has been a focus of increasing concern for environmentalists and regulators since last week, when rains from Hurricane Florence caused a coal ash landfill at the site to erode, spilling waste onto a local roadway.
Coal ash is the powdery substance that remains after burning coal. The Environmental Protection Agency links the substances it contains — including heavy metals like arsenic and lead — to nervous-system problems, reproductive issues and cancer.
It was not immediately clear how much ash was released. The extent of the threat will depend on how quickly the breach can be stopped, state officials said.
A significant spill could endanger the water supply for the southeastern part of the state, which is still reeling from record-breaking flooding that has closed many of the region’s roads, including a long stretch of Interstate 95 south of the Virginia border.
And the danger of more flooding remains. The Cape Fear River is scheduled to crest Saturday morning at 31.3 feet, more than 7 feet above its historic flood stage. Water levels will remain high through Tuesday.
Coal ash is not the only pollutant to cause North Carolina woes in the wake of Florence. The state is home to 9.7 million pigs that produce 10 billion gallons of manure each year. Most of that manure is stored in large earthen lagoons; a growing number of those lagoons are flooding.
As of midday on Friday, at least 54 lagoons have discharged their waste into the environment, another 76 are at risk of doing so, and six have some form of structural damage that may have led to the release of pig feces. The number is expected to increase.
State inspectors, who conducted a drone survey of the area on Friday, said there appeared to be “no structural issues” with the basins’ inner containment walls, or impoundments, said Bridget Munger, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
They are monitoring the situation in “real time” and plan to conduct an investigation into the causes of the failure once the situation has stabilized, Munger said in an email.
“This is a crisis that we’re addressing but it’s in the context of a huge state emergency, so that’s just part of the big picture for us,” Munger said.
Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said in a statement on Friday that, “a thorough investigation of events will soon follow to ensure that Duke Energy is held responsible for any environmental impacts by their coal ash facilities.”
A representative for the Environmental Protection Agency said the agency had not been out to the site, and that it would lend its support to state officials at their request.
As state officials fretted over the plant, residents and workers in the surrounding area were impatient to get back to their daily routines and were concerned about potential damage.
“The dam really worries me. The idea that it could spill over and spread chemicals is really concerning,” said Charles Holliday, 27, who was clearing debris from his family’s yard in the small town of Navassa, the nearest residential area to the plant. “This whole area has a lot of industrial plants and chemicals and that kind of thing. So you add it all up and, yes, it’s something we are all going to get a little panicked about.”
The river has already spread hundreds of yards beyond its banks, turning the piney flats west of Wilmington into a muddy lagoon punctured by tilting trees and half-submerged railroad bridges.
The plant itself, cordoned off by security, but visible from a highway overpass, was covered by a thin pool of water, with the area closest to the lake appearing to be the most inundated.
Peter Harrison, a lawyer with Earthjustice, an environmental nonprofit, took a boat on the river to see the site himself. He said there were multiple places where the dam around the lake had breached, and the lake water was pouring into the river. From what he could see, he added, the lake water appeared full of coal ash.
“You can just see that swirling down the river for like miles and miles,” Harrison said.
Avner Vengosh, a professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University, said, “We’ll probably never know how much has spilled into the river.” Because the spill stems from large-scale flooding over a wide area, it’s difficult to calculate how much ash is entering the river.
The breach of the dam imperils two unlined coal ash ponds on site, which contain a combined 2.1 million cubic yards of coal ash, according to a report prepared for Duke Energy this year. That amount of coal ash would fill a large sports stadium.
Scrutiny of coal ash has increased since 2008, when the Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tennessee, spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the environment. The cleanup cost more than $1 billion.
Last week, the storm caused a coal ash landfill at the Duke plant to erode, spilling about 2,000 cubic yards of the ash onto an adjacent roadway.
The spill was quickly cleaned up, the company said. But the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group, disputed that, saying at least some of the coal ash remains in the area.
In 2014 Duke Energy’s Dan River plant in Eden, North Carolina, spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, prompting the state to require Duke to order all of Duke’s coal ash ponds closed. That process is not yet complete.
In May 2015, the Justice Department announced a $102 million fine against Duke Energy after the utility pleaded guilty to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act at several of its North Carolina facilities.
The fine included a $68 million criminal penalty and $34 million for environmental projects and land conservation to benefit rivers and wetlands in North Carolina and Virginia. Four of the nine charges were related to the Dan River spill. The other violations were based on allegations of historical violations at the company’s other operations.
The L.V. Sutton plant now burns natural gas, but until 2013 it housed a three-unit, 575-megawatt coal-fired plant. The coal ash from that operation remains on site, with the oldest of the ash basins dating back to 1971.
The coal ash landfill at Duke’s L.V. Sutton plant, which spilled last week, was supposed to provide secure storage for the site’s two coal ash ponds, but the fact that it is already failing now has some environmental groups questioning its structural integrity.
“You know the thing with the Tennessee Valley river spill, and the same thing with the Dan River spill, a lot of that ash was never recovered,” said Lisa Evans, a lawyer with Earthjustice. “If you spill into a lake and that lake water continues to spill into that river rapidly you’re going to have maybe even a bigger clean up problem.”
“If you have 2 million tons of ash going into that lake,” Evans added, “that lake is dead.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.