Again? North Carolina groundwater tainted by Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash

The State Column, Sam Catherman | May 06, 2015

Duke Energy spills toxic coal ash into the wells of North Carolina residents once again.

North Carolina residents are rushing to the store for bottled water after state officials issued a warning to people living in close proximity to Duke Energy’s coal ash pits. Well water in the area showed contamination levels that concerned state health officials, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported on Tuesday that 152 wells tested near Duke Energy’s coal ash disposal sites failed to meet state groundwater safety standards, representing over 93 percent of the 163 wells that have been tested so far.

Tests indicate the presence of dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals like lead, vanadium, and hexavalent chromium. Just last month, North Carolina officials reported that 87 private well tests turned up below state groundwater safety standards.

Just last year, Duke Energy spilled toxic sludge from a broken corrugated metal pipe at its power plant near Eden, North Carolina into the Dan River. The spill covered over 70 miles of the river and raised serious concerns about the safety of more than 60 other Duke coal ash dump sites in five states. There are 32 coal ash dumps in North Carolina owned by Duke.

Duke’s environmental follies have caused serious grief for the energy company. A Delaware judge is currently considering Duke’s request for a six-month halt of a shareholder lawsuit, the result of another massive coal ash spill in North Carolina in 2014.

Duke agreed in Febuary to settle the criminal case brought against them for the spill to the tune of $68 million in fines and restitution, and $34 million in community services and mitigation, to be paid by Duke shareholders.

Shareholdrs are now also taking legal action against Duke, charging officers with breaching their fiduciary duty. Specifically, shareholders claim that Duke officials deliberately and knowingly allowed the company to constantly violate both North Carolina and United States environmental laws. Duke’s failure to comply with regulations exposed the company to millions of dollars in fines, penalties, and cleanup expenses.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for electricity. Coal ash contains many harmful chemicals, and North Carolina residents are being told by state officials not to shower, drink, or cook with well water in affected areas. Coal still provides 39% of the United States’ electricity, and is one of the oldest sources of energy for the country. Coal-fired power plants have also come under fire recently as a result of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, part of President Obama’s climate action plan. Under the plan, emissions from coal-fired power plants will be required to be reduced by the year 2030.

Though it still produces the majority of electricity in the United States, coal use is tapering off dramatically as a result of alternative energy sources and clean air regulations. In 2002, according to the Energy Information Administration, over 50 percent of the US’s electricity came from coal.

Duke is the nation’s largest electricity producer, and they store more than 150 million tons of coal ash in 32 dumps and at 14 power plants in the state of North Carolina. A law passed by the state, spurred by the company’s involvement in the Dan River spill in 2014, requires that Duke move or cap all of its coal ash depositories by the year 2029.



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