What Is Causing Massive Fish Die-Offs in North Carolina?

In Wilmington, N.C., a serial killer has been on the loose for decades. This killer’s death toll totals at 900,000, with thousands more maimed, deformed and disfigured. The terrifying difference in this case is that there’s no question as to the killer’s identity. It’s been common knowledge for decades, yet authorities have done nothing to stop them.

Maybe that’s because the deceased happen to be fish and the killer is Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest operators of coal-fired power plants.

A new study [PDF] conducted by Dr. Dennis Lemly, research associate professor of biology at Wake Forest University, recently confirmed that Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash pollution has killed more than 900,000 fish and causes deformities in thousands more each year in Lake Sutton, a popular fishing destination just outside of Wilmington, N.C.

(While the particulate coal-fired power plants spew into the air is quite toxic, it pales in comparison to the ash that’s left behind. “Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins from coal ash readily leach into drinking water supplies. Coal ash is the second largest industrial waste stream in America and is essentially unregulated,” explains Earthjustice.org. This waste contains substances typically labeled with a skull and crossbones – arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium and selenium — yet Duke Energy has been permitted to dump this coal ash into North Carolina’s waterways without contest.)

In his study, Dr. Lemly analyzed more than 1,400 fish from Lake Sutton. Those that were still alive displayed disturbing mutations of the heads, mouths, spines and tails (see pictures here).

“Facial and spinal deformities in baby fish affect their ability to eat and swim, writes Donna Lisenby for Ecowatch. Many young fish die before reaching maturity; long before someone trying to put supper on the table can catch them. One of the many jaw-dropping revelations in the study was the fact that no juvenile largemouth bass (less than 3 inches long) were found in two separate collection events at Lake Sutton. In contrast, many young bass were found in a single collection event at the non-contaminated reference lake that served as a baseline for the study.”

Sportsmen and anglers should be horrified: If the poisoned water of Lake Sutton is doing this to the fish, think about what it’s doing to the people who live near it, fishing, swimming and boating in its waters.

Then there are the economic consequences of this 30-year pollution spree, none of which Duke Energy has been required to pay. “The value of lost natural resources at Lake Sutton goes well into the millions of dollars each year,” continues Lisenby. “The replacement cost of the lost fish is more than $4.5 million per year according to the study. If North Carolina replaced all fish killed by selenium pollution over the last 25 years in Lake Sutton, taxpayers would face a bill of more than $112 million. Duke Energy owned coal plants have been among the most notorious and prolific fish killers in the U.S. since 1976.”

It’s time for all Americans to put an end to this shocking practice of unregulated coal ash dumping into our nation’s waterways. Serial killers like Duke Energy shouldn’t be allowed to use our rivers and lakes as their personal trash can. Please take action by signing our petition demanding that President Obama protect the North Carolina fish from coal ash pollution.


Infographic via Earthjustice

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

signed, thanks for sharing :)

Tania S.
Tania S4 years ago

This is horrific. Thank you for sharing though.

Mark Donner
Mark Donner4 years ago

Willam R. thanks for the propaganda. I could just write to Duke Energy to hear the same propaganda babble from paid off coal company stooges. Sorry, but the ONLY solution is to outright bankrupt and smash coal companies worldwide, and their affiliates in fracking, frankenfoods, chemicals and agribusiness. They are the ultimate terrorists

Gita Sasi Dharan
Gita Sasi Dharan4 years ago

What a tragedy! Signed.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla4 years ago

Petition signed

Janis K.
Janis K4 years ago

Greed is responsible, for most bad things happening on this planet!

Debbie Miller
Debbie Miller4 years ago

Oh this is outrageous that Duke Energy is allowing this to happen. I live in Western N. Carolina and unfortanely Duke is our power company. I sooo hope to go solar so I do not have to support this kind of ethic. Also, will sign the petition. ty!

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G4 years ago

very sad
petition signed

Ruth R.
Ruth R4 years ago

Signed the petition.

Kathleen R.
Kathleen R4 years ago

Thanks for the information ... petition signed.