Threats posed by coal ash ponds, nuclear power plants, and hog waste lagoons in the path of Hurricane Florence

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Drew Ball

Here’s what you need to know

Environment North Carolina

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Southeastern U.S. coast, Environment North Carolina and Frontier Group, among other organizations, are sharing information that will help your readers and viewers contextualize what’s going on with regard to major environmental and health concerns.

Numerous coal-fired power plants with onsite storage of coal ash waste are in the potential path of Hurricane Florence. Coal ash ponds can be susceptible to failure or spillage during heavy precipitation events or flooding, with devastating consequences for the environment, wildlife and human health.

  • Data and graphics explaining the threats posed by coal ash are in PDFs here.

Powerful hurricanes like Hurricane Florence present multiple risks to nuclear power stations. High winds can down power lines that deliver electricity that nuclear plants use to run their cooling systems. Flooding can damage back-up generators or key components needed to keep reactors safe. Flooding can be caused by heavy rain that raises the level of rivers and reservoirs, by intense local precipitation that overwhelms on-site drainage systems, or by wind-driven intrusion of water into buildings. Storm surges can also cause flooding.

Several nuclear reactors are in areas that may be subject to flooding in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Inspections and reviews by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have found potential problems at some plants that could allow water into critical systems. 

  • A fact sheet about nuclear power plants in the path of Florence is here.

North Carolina is the nation’s second-largest pork producer, with much of that production taking place at industrial-scale farms. Waste at these farms is often stored in lagoons, which are ponds filled with waste that has been mixed with water. These lagoons are often just simple pits separated from waterways by an embankment. Spills can occur when lagoons fail or overflow, or when hoses or pipes carrying waste leak.

Waste lagoons are at greater risk of spilling during extreme weather events such as hurricanes. Hurricane Florence is projected to affect major agricultural regions of North Carolina and neighboring states, where manure storage in lagoons is common. Leakage from or failure of animal waste lagoons can pose a significant risk to water quality and wildlife, as animal waste contains an array of dangerous bacteria and other pollutants.

  • Materials about hog manure lagoons here.