By Jim Efstathiou Jr., Sylvia Carignan and Shruti Date Singh


The latest

The National Hurricane Center issued its first set of hurricane and storm surge watches Tuesday for the East Coast as Hurricane Florence continues its trek toward North Carolina.

The “extremely dangerous major hurricane” is predicted to hit the coast late Thursday or early Friday morning, dropping as much as 30 inches of rain in some areas and wind gusts in the 140 mph range, says the National Hurricane Center.

A “probable” track of Category 4 Hurricane Florence continues to show the storm hitting the North Carolina coast, though it appears the predicted landfall is edging north, according to the latest maps issued by the National Weather Service.

— The Charlotte Observer

Hurricane Florence’s potential for destruction includes increased risks for the environment and public health.

Duke Energy was ordered two years ago to clean up coal-ash ponds in North Carolina that posed risks to the environment and public health. The company won’t be done in time for the storm, leaving the sites vulnerable. The state is also a major producer of poultry and hogs, and man-made lagoons that hold manure also could be at risk of overflowing into fields and nearby waterways.

Coal-ash sites

“The coal-ash sites are very vulnerable to this hurricane and any other,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Duke owns 31 coal-ash basins in North Carolina. They contained about 111 million tons of coal ash as of August 2017, according to state estimates.

Duke is moving staff and equipment toward North Carolina’s coast to monitor the disposal sites for coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. It contains metals including arsenic, chromium and mercury that pose risks to public health and the environment if spilled into drinking water supplies. After the storm hits, staff members are prepared to inspect the sites by foot, boat and drone.

Many coal-ash storage ponds are near rivers that are vulnerable to overflowing during big storms.

“The risk is probably not that rain is going to fall into the pits,” Holleman said “The risk is that land and water will compromise the dams.”

Manure lagoons

From the livestock industry, one environmental impact from the storm could be from the lagoons, or lined earthen pits, that hold treated manure. They are commonly used to manage swine waste.

The waste is held in lagoons because it’s considered a safe way to store the manure before it’s used to aid crops.

There’s the potential that spillover from open lagoons or wash away from barns or fields could get into water used for drinking or recreation, according to the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group.

Still, the hog industry disputes the idea that there’s much environmental risk from the waste lagoons, said Andy Curliss, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Pork Council. He said there was no impact during 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, which struck the state. During that storm, only 14 lagoons out of several thousand flooded, Curliss said.