More pollution found at Duke Energy coal ash sites

A new federally-required report filed by Duke Energy shows previously unreported levels of toxic substances beyond allowed limits at four of its North Carolina plants, including at Roxboro in Person County, shown here. As the utility pushes back against court orders to clean up toxic coal ash in unlined pits at six of its sites, SELC intervened on behalf of local community groups. (© Sanjay Suchak)

Duke Energy’s own reports required to be made public by the national Coal Combustion Residuals rule (CCR rule) and filed last week disclose that more toxic substances than previously reported are polluting the water at its coal ash sites across North Carolina.

At three sites where the utility wants to leave its coal ash sitting in groundwater next to lakes, rivers, and drinking water reservoirs, the new reports show high levels of toxic pollutants that exceed federal groundwater protection standards, including mercury at Duke’s Belews Creek plant in Stokes County, barium at the Marshall plant on Lake Norman, and lithium, radium 226, and radium 228 at the Roxboro plant in Person County.  The reports also show that Duke Energy is polluting groundwater with cobalt at its Weatherspoon plant in Lumberton.  Duke Energy is already obligated by court order to remove all the ash from the unlined pit at Weatherspoon, but has not completed that removal.

“Duke Energy’s coal ash is injecting a witch’s brew of toxic pollutants into North Carolina’s waters, and now Duke Energy admits that the nasty flow is even worse than previously reported,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “Duke Energy needs to stop fighting North Carolina’s people and North Carolina’s government and start moving its toxic coal ash from these unlined, polluting pits to dry, lined storage out of our groundwater and away from our drinking water supplies.”

In 2015, Duke Energy’s operating companies in North Carolina pleaded guilty 18 times to nine coal ash crimes committed across the state, paid fines of over $100 million, and remain on nationwide criminal probation.

Court orders, a settlement, and a criminal plea agreement require the utility to remove its coal ash from unlined pits at eight North Carolina sites.  In April, North Carolina’s environmental agency ordered Duke Energy to removal the coal ash from leaking pits at its remaining six North Carolina coal ash sites, but Duke Energy has gone to court to try to leave the coal ash in leaking lagoons those six sites: Marshall on Lake Norman, Allen on Lake Wylie, Cliffside on the Broad River, Belews Creek in Stokes County, and Roxboro and Mayo in Person County.

Utilities in other states in the region are setting a better example: All of South Carolina’s utilities are removing all coal ash from unlined, waterfront pits and, earlier this year, Virginia enacted legislation that requires Dominion Energy to do the same.

In motions to intervene and enforce the state order, SELC represents Appalachian Voices, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, MountainTrue, Roanoke River Basin Association, Sierra Club, the Stokes County Branch of the NAACP, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

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