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U.S. begins criminal probe of toxic spill in N.C.

N.C. toxic spill spurs U.S. criminal probe

Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into a massive coal ash spill into a North Carolina river, demanding that Duke Energy and state regulators hand over reams of documents related to the accident that left a waterway polluted with tons of toxic sludge.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, N.C., issued grand jury subpoenas seeking records from Duke and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The subpoenas seek e-mails, memos and reports related to the Feb. 2 spill into the Dan River and the state’s oversight of the company’s 30 other coal ash dumps.

The Associated Press obtained a copy Thursday of the subpoena issued to the state through a public records request.

“An official criminal investigation of a suspected felony is being conducted by an agency of the United States and a federal grand jury,” said a cover letter accompanying the subpoena, which was dated Monday and signed by a criminal prosecutor.

The exact crime and precisely who is being targeted for potential prosecution is not spelled out in the document.

The spill at a Duke Energy plant in Eden spewed enough toxic sludge to fill 73 Olympic-sized pools, turning the river water a milky gray for miles. It was the third-largest U.S. coal ash spill.

State health officials have advised that people not eat fish from the river and to avoid contact with the water. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury and a host of other chemicals that are highly toxic to humans and aquatic life.

— Associated Press

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— From staff reports, news services

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