Duke Energy proposes increasing carcinogens downstream in permit renewal

Bromides can react with chlorine in water treatment systems to produce carcinogens. (© Amy Benoit)

As part of its 2015 criminal plea agreement, Duke Energy admitted that bromide discharged into rivers and lakes from its coal ash operations have caused carcinogens to form in downstream drinking water systems. Some of these carcinogens are so dangerous that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set their health protection goal at zero, meaning that people should not be exposed to any level of these pollutants.

In its filing, Duke Energy identified dozens of downstream drinking water systems that serve millions of people in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia that may be impacted by the company’s bromide discharges.

Yet instead of taking responsible action to halt these bromide discharges, Duke Energy is proposing to add even more bromides to its coal ash basins, through changes to its coal plant operations. Duke Energy claims that the additional bromides will reduce emissions of mercury from its smokestacks. The utility is choosing this bromide production despite the fact that other modern, widely-used technologies—such as baghouses—are available to control mercury emissions without causing carcinogens downstream. Baghouses are commonly used and collect particulate matter generated by industrial production.

This proposed additional bromide contamination is bad for families that count on clean drinking water; bad for businesses that require high-quality water; and bad for people living near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds who would be forced to choose between contaminated well water and bromide-contaminated municipal water.

In comments submitted recently to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, SELC urged the agency to require Duke Energy to excavate its coal ash basins that are leaking bromide into North Carolina’s rivers. The agency must also put limits on bromide that ensure protection of downstream water users, and it must require Duke Energy to use real pollution controls for mercury emissions, instead of turning a mercury pollution problem into a cancer-causing bromide problem. 

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