News | July 15, 2015

Duke Energy power plant chemicals linked to contamination of nearby municipal drinking water

Almost a year after North Carolina Health News first reported how runoff pollution from Duke Energy’s coal ash at Belews Creek was linked to spikes of a contaminant that can be harmful to people in the treated drinking water for the downstream North Carolina communities of Eden and Madison, Duke Energy’s entered into a criminal plea deal that requires the company to look at other instances where its coal ash pollution has similarly contaminated treated drinking water used by communities across North Carolina.

Instead of cleaning up its leaking coal ash at Belews Creek and stopping the source of water contamination, the company paid the North Carolina towns of Eden and Madison to upgrade their water treatment plants along the Dan River.

Eden had struggled with new, high levels of potentially carcinogenic trihalomethanes in its treated drinking water. The trihalomethanes were the result of a chemical reaction between the bromide from water pollution from Duke Energy’s Belews Creek site into the Dan River and the chlorine used at the town’s water treatment plant.

After town officials traced the bromide pollution back to its coal ash source at Belews Creek, Duke Energy agreed to pay Eden $2.3 million for upgrades to its water treatment facility. A similar arrangement for $770,000 was reached for nearby Madison, which faced the same problems.

The serious risk posed by harmful contamination from Duke Energy’s storage of coal ash in leaking, unlined pits across North Carolina underscores the need to remove its coal ash to safer dry, lined storage away from rivers, drinking water reservoirs and drinking water wells.  As part of Duke Energy's criminal plea agreement for its environmental crimes under the Clean Water Act, Duke Energy must identify other communities in North Carolina at risk from similar pollution of their treated drinking water due to Duke Energy’s unsafe, unlined storage of coal ash and make payments to affected communities.

This North Carolina Health News story and this Charlotte Observer story provide more background on the payments.