News | June 19, 2017

Under pressure, Duke Energy withdraws requests to add cancer-causing pollution to N.C. water

UPDATE, 7/28/17: Following an SELC lawsuit, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a new permit for Duke Energy’s Cliffside power plant that prohibits the use of more bromides, which lead to the creation of carcinogens in municipal drinking water systems.

After SELC, on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and Clean Air Carolina, filed suit challenging Duke Energy’s requested permit to put more cancer-causing bromide pollution in North Carolina’s rivers and drinking water supplies, Duke Energy withdrew its requests just days ago. Multiple North Carolina communities downstream of Duke Energy’s coal ash sites have reported spikes in carcinogens in their treated drinking water and traced the cause back to Duke Energy’s bromide pollution from its unlined, leaking coal ash pits.

Duke’s withdrawal of its request for more bromide pollution under legal pressure and public scrutiny is a big victory for everyone who relies on clean drinking water downstream,” said Myra Blake, an SELC attorney.  “But downstream communities still face the threat of Duke Energy’s ongoing, illegal leaks flowing from its unlined coal ash pits that carry high levels of bromide and other pollutants into our drinking water sources. The only proven way to stop this contamination is to remove the coal ash to dry, lined storage or recycle it.

When bromide comes into contact with downstream chlorine-based water treatment systems, it forms cancer-causing trihalomethanes in treated drinking water that families and communities in North Carolina and neighboring states are drinking. In sworn testimony included in the pending lawsuit, Duke Energy admitted that its use of bromide at its Marshall plant in recent years caused cancer-causing trihalomethanes to form in Charlotte’s drinking water. Duke Energy agreed, under oath, that the draft air permit for its Allen plant raised concerns about increased bromide discharges and concentrations downstream.

In its letters after the more recent lawsuit was filed, Duke Energy reversed course and asked to withdraw its request to add halide salts, also known as bromides, from pending state permits and for state permits already issued for its facilities: Belews Creek on the Dan River upstream of Eden and Madison, Cliffside on the Broad River upstream of Shelby, Marshall on Lake Norman upstream of Charlotte, Roxboro and Mayo in the Roanoke River watershed upstream of Virginia and North Carolina communities, and Allen on the Catawba River and Lake Wylie upstream of Rock Hill, S.C.

Duke Energy has identified many other downstream drinking water supplies—serving millions of people—that are at-risk for bromide contamination from these plants.

Water officials for downstream water systems for the towns of Eden, N.C., and Madison, N.C., traced spikes in carcinogens in their treated drinking water back to Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined coal ash pit at Belews Creek on the Dan River. Other communities downstream of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash pits at Allen, Cliffside, Marshall, Mayo, and Roxboro have reported spikes in carcinogenic trihalomethanes in the treated water that people are drinking, including Charlotte and other drinking water intakes used by well over a million people.

Although Duke Energy has withdrawn its requests for this additional source of bromide pollution, it continues to discharge bromide from its existing unlined coal ash pits and the illegal seeps leaking from those pits.