In February of 2014, over 50,000 tons of coal ash was spilled from a retired power plant into the Dan River of North Carolina. Coal ash exposure can have either positive or negative effects on an ecosystem, largely depending on the concentration and species of the heavy metals it contains. The resulting alterations within an ecosystem can include both abiotic factors, such as the pH of contaminated soils or waterways, and biotic factors, including the viability and diversity of exposed organisms. Herein, we report that one year following the coal ash spill into the Dan River significant differences were observed in several abiotic factors of contaminated bank and channel soils, including pH and content of chromium, sulfur, and calcium. Furthermore, the density, diversity, and fitness of the microbes in soils exposed to coal ash were also altered when compared to reference samples. The implications of these variations are discussed.
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Vol. 88 • No. 2