GOLDSBORO, WAYNE COUNTY -

Residents along the Neuse River in Eastern North Carolina fear they could become victim to the next Dan River episode.

In February, 27 million gallons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River, now experts are worried the same thing could happen to the Neuse River at the Lee Plant in Goldsboro.

Senior Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center Frank Holleman said there are higher levels of contamination in the Neuse River running beside the plant, than in the Dan River.

"Really they're out of sight and out of mind until a disaster happens and then it changes your life," he said.

In 2012 Duke Energy shut down the coal-fire Lee Plant and replaced it with a natural gas-fire plant, but experts say millions of gallons of coal ash produced by the former plant still sit next to the river.

Gwen Anderson said she has lived in Goldsboro next to the Duke Energy Lee Plant her whole life.

"It’s just really a scary thought. Is it in our drinking water already,?” she said. “I think there should be something done about it. This has been here all these years and none of us knew.”

Holleman said a failure of these basins would be a catastrophe.

"They are unlined pits in the ground held back from our rivers by dikes made of earth that leaks," he explained.

NewsChannel 12 spoke with a Duke Energy spokeswoman who said it's simply not true.

"No basin discharge is going into the Neuse River and the ash basins are not receiving new ash. We monitor the ground water and coal ash has never been a problem in the Neuse River," Duke Energy spokeswoman said.  

Although, Holleman said there is a problem and there's a solution. He said it's what coal plants in South Carolina are doing now.

"Utilities are moving their coal ash out of their unlined pits and moving it to a save storage in landfills, a dry place, away from the river,” he said.

Duke Energy said: "We are taking responsibility for what happened in the Dan River. We are well on our way to properly closing the coal ash basins at the plant in Goldsboro to insure it doesn't happen again."